What Has Led to the Exodus of Black Families?

Good morning. It’s Monday. Today we’ll look at why Black families are leaving New York and what that means for the city.

Athenia Rodney at home in Snellville, Ga., with her husband, Kendall, and three children. They moved from New York City last summer.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

New York once held out the promise of upward mobility for Black Americans, but now there are signs that the sense of promise has dimmed. From 2010 to 2020, a decade during which the city’s population increased by 629,000 people, the number of Black New Yorkers dropped. The surge was driven by Asian and Hispanic residents who moved here.

The trend is apparent in school enrollments: The number of Black children and teenagers living in the city fell more than 19 percent from 2010 to 2020. Schools have lost children in all demographic groups, but the loss of Black children has been steeper as families have moved elsewhere.

I asked Troy Closson, who with our colleague Nicole Hong wrote about this phenomenon, to explain.

What has prompted the exodus of Black families?

So many families that have left over the past several years have felt the city was becoming too unaffordable, whether because of housing — the rent — or the day-to-day expenses. And on top of that, child care in the city has carried such a huge cost.

They said this is not the place where upward mobility is possible, but it would be if they moved to a different city, to the South.

Why the South? Do families that have moved there feel more fulfilled?

So many things have driven Black families to the South, whether it’s the possibility of having so much more space or just having a backyard for their kids. Whether it’s having, in certain cities, a job market that’s growing. Atlanta is one of the hottest places to be right now. And for some families it’s just about moving somewhere where they feel a deeper connection to the city itself.

A professor in Atlanta whom I talked with was saying that in New York, some Black residents might have never felt a real ownership of many neighborhoods in the city in the way they could in Detroit or Atlanta or another primarily Black city. New York is not just a Black or white city. There are so many different cultures, and that’s part of the draw here. But there were families that wanted to be part of much larger and still-growing Black communities elsewhere.

Many big cities in the Northeast have seen Black families leave over time. Some of those places have Black mayors who have tried to make their cities more affordable and increase homeownership for Black families.

But there is the bigger question of whether how much the movement out of cities is about Black people being pushed out — and something mayors can stop — as opposed to being about a broader pull that the South has on some families.

So there’s a comfort factor in the South?

It’s true that over time, a lot of families that moved to the North during the original great migration felt disillusioned with what they found; some felt like they were bringing their cultures, but didn’t feel a deeper sense of place in many parts of New York. Some have now moved to Dallas and Charlotte and Atlanta, wanting to feel a connection with people who came before them, generations before them.

I don’t think that was the primary motivation for leaving for a lot of the families Nicole and I talked to, but that was in their minds. But some said we just have other friends and a bigger support system in other places.

What does this mean for the school system in New York?

During the first two years of the pandemic, the school district in the city that lost the most students was a largely Black area of Brooklyn. There are a number of reasons for that, but looking at recent enrollment losses, parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and southeast Queens with higher Black populations often similarly lost more students.

The concern that many Black families had was that over time, if enrollment trends continue and Black students exit the system at higher rates, it would create disparities in resources allocated to certain schools because funding largely follows students in New York. The concern was that schools that lost Black students could see larger cuts to their teaching staffs, to after-school programs and to other offerings.

What about birthrates, which are also declining?

That’s the other big consideration here. Birthrates for Black women have decreased steadily in recent years. I think it plays into what efforts can be made here. Among the people we interviewed, many spoke a lot about a need to devote more programs specifically to low-income and middle-class Black New Yorkers — programs centered around homeownership and closing the racial wealth gap. For families with several kids, being in a small one- or two-bedroom apartment didn’t work anymore, but they said that homeownership was out of reach here. Mayor Adams has focused a lot on making that more accessible for New Yorkers of color, but some experts said efforts need to be more aggressive if we’re going to see more changes.

And building new affordable housing always seems to take time.

I don’t think a lot of families are worried about next year necessarily. I think they’re thinking about five years down the road about what the school system could look like, what the resources could look like and how neighborhoods could continue to change. In some ways, there’s still time to address that. What happens long term is definitely going to be the focus.


Enjoy a mostly sunny day in the high 40s. The evening is mostly clear, with temperatures dropping to the low 30s.


In effect until Feb. 13 (Lincoln’s Birthday).

The top New York news

Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times
  • Santos sexual harassment claim: A prospective congressional aide has accused Representative George Santos of ethics violations and sexual harassment, according to a letter the man sent to the House Committee on Ethics and posted to Twitter.

  • Officer shot: An off-duty police officer was hospitalized in critical condition after being shot during an apparent robbery as he tried to purchase a vehicle in Brooklyn.

  • Skull linked to a missing person: Alaskan investigators used genetic testing and genealogy to connect a skull found in 1997 to a New York man who had been missing for decades. Officials believe the man was mauled by a bear.

Animals of the city

  • Loose owl: A Eurasian eagle-owl named Flaco was the subject of an intense rescue effort late Friday after getting loose as a result of vandals having damaged his Central Park Zoo enclosure.

  • Dog-free lobbies: In most apartment buildings, policies about pets are typically clear. But an in-between area exists in some residences. Within them, dogs are welcome, but not welcome everywhere.

Metropolitan diary

Getting takeout

Dear Diary:

One summer evening when you could gratefully feel the mercury descending the thermometer, I spotted a well-dressed man and woman, hand in hand, a half-block ahead of me on my walk around Greenwich Village.

There were lots of reds and yellows in the pattern of her long, cotton skirt, and lots of black in his suit and wide-brimmed hat.

As I was trying to figure out where they were headed — a nightclub, maybe, or some concert I didn’t know about — we came upon a very popular and crowded Mexican takeout place.

A line of customers snaked down the sidewalk, and music blared from two large speakers on either side of the storefront.

The well-dressed couple stopped walking and faced each other, still holding hands. They were discussing something, probably whether to get food to go.

Just then, they gave each other a sweet, soft kiss. He stood still, facing her. She stepped back, gave him a little curtsy and broke into a beautiful dance. Then she took his hand, and he started dancing, too, just as beautifully.

I stood there admiring them. Everyone on line to order food was admiring them as well. When the music paused, the couple paused too.

Everyone in the line started to clap. So did I. The couple gave a quick but ornate bow, kissed each other again sweetly and joined the line to order food. I continued on my walk.

— Doug Sylver

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.


Leave a Comment

] }