This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Encouraging Poor Americans to Move to Better Places: The Prequel

Yesterday I blogged about an idea (a "new Homestead Act") aimed at encouraging poor Americans (a disproportionate share of whom are African-American) to move to another place where life can be better for them. My son, John, very adroitly produced for me an article by Malcolm Gladwell from the New Yorker back in August, that very nicely sets the table for the discussion of the New Homestead Act, including a few comments about Chicago, which I mentioned largely in passing in yesterday's blog.
Black Americans are much more likely to stay in place and much less likely than whites to engage in what the sociologist Patrick Sharkey calls “contextual mobility”—moves significant enough to change circumstances and opportunities. Robert Sampson once mapped the movement of African-Americans participating in a Chicago housing experiment over a seven-year period starting in the mid-nineteen-nineties, and the graphic consists of tight clusters of very short lines—spanning a few city blocks, or extending one or two neighborhoods over. How often do African-Americans from the poorest neighborhoods of the South Side leave the city of Chicago? “Rarely,” Sharkey said.
But the story is largely about the African-American diaspora from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. 
If a group of poor Americans are stuck in a bad place, then either the place they are stuck in needs to be improved or they need to move to a better place. Over the years, there have been numerous efforts to advance the second of these approaches—experimental projects, government initiatives —but they have been hard to execute on a large scale. Then came the storm.
That disaster (which had a combination of natural and human-induced causes) forced people to find new lives elsewhere, especially in Houston. Guess what? Life is better for most of them. The obvious point is that since we cannot (and should not!) go around creating disasters, something like the New Homestead Act, which provides national, rather than just state or local resources for relocating, is something that genuinely makes sense.   

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