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'Black Flight' From L.A. Reverses Trend, Study Discovers

September 22, 1987|PENELOPE McMILLAN | Times Staff Writer

In a reversal of historic trends, a study shows blacks are leaving Los Angeles in increasing numbers and are moving out of the state or to other metropolitan areas such as Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

Describing what is in effect "black flight," James H. Johnson, associate professor of geography at UCLA, said U.S. Census data shows a steady "migration reversal" of blacks in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with about 73,000 leaving between 1975 and 1980.

Johnson and Dr. Curtis C. Roseman of USC have been analyzing census data over the last year as they studied why blacks are moving back to the South instead of away from Southern states.

The researchers, working under a Ford Foundation grant, have found what Johnson, 33, calls a "slowdown of net in-migration" to Los Angeles and, for the first time, were able to track where blacks went.

Between 1965 and 1970, 98,685 blacks moved to Los Angeles while 40,776 moved out, Johnson said. Then, between 1975 and 1980, 96,833 moved in, but 73,316 left. The latter is the most recent study period available.

"We see a slowdown in the rate of in-migration and a sharp increase in the out-migration of black people," Johnson said, "which has enormous social, economic and political implications."

By 1990, he predicted, "Los Angeles will be experiencing more blacks leaving the metropolitan area than will be coming in." That, he added, has already happened in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit.

Of the blacks who left Los Angeles between 1975 and 1980, according to census records, Johnson said, "about half moved elsewhere in California and the rest to some other state." The researchers were able to track this, he said, because the census had asked people in 1980 where they were in 1975.

Among other areas that blacks moved to in California, "A significant portion . . . greater than 5,000, moved out to the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area," Johnson said. "But they're not moving to the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino, but to what is called the balance of the counties, places like Rialto." A significant reason, he said he suspects, is "affordable housing."

More than 5,000 blacks also moved into the Oakland area, Johnson said, and 2,000 to 5,000 headed for the Anaheim-Santa Ana-Garden Grove area. Another 2,000 to 5,000 went to San Diego; and San Jose and Sacramento each became the new home of 1,000 to 2,000 blacks.

Fresno, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Ventura and Santa Barbara, "areas that traditionally blacks haven't settled in," each was the destination of 500 to 1,000 blacks who left Los Angeles.

Others moved to Houston, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas and a number of Southern cities such as Atlanta, Little Rock, Ark., San Antonio and New Orleans.

"Historically blacks left the South going to other parts of the country," Johnson said. "Most of the blacks in Los Angeles came from Texas and Louisiana. For the first time in history in the post-1970 period the South actually experienced a net in-migration."

Johnson said the irony in his findings is blacks were leaving while Los Angeles was emerging as the city of minorities.

"The 1980 Census showed Los Angeles was 52% minorities and 48% Anglo. Precisely at the same time when you have a massive number of ethnics moving in from Mexico, other parts of Latin America and Southeast Asia, all of a sudden you find blacks leaving in large numbers."

Johnson said he could only speculate about why blacks are leaving Los Angeles.

The increasing influx of Latinos into South-Central neighborhoods, where the majority of Los Angeles blacks live, Johnson said, has been well documented. But from the black side, "We don't know if they're being forced to move, if landlords have forced them to move and then subsequently rent to undocumented workers, or whether it is a voluntary migration."

Lack of employment opportunities in what Johnson described as a "post-industrial transactional economy" is likely a major factor, Johnson said. "Some people are having to vote with their feet, if you will, in response to the changes."

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