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CENSUS 2000 | FOCUS: BLACKS

Migrants From L.A. Flow to Affordable Suburbs Such as Inland Empire

March 30, 2001|ERIN TEXEIRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

African Americans left traditionally black, central-city neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area and moved into newer, outlying suburbs in the 1990s--a pattern that continued from the previous decade and significantly diminished the overall black population in both Los Angeles County and L.A. itself.

Tens of thousands of blacks left such cities as Los Angeles and Compton, and similar numbers poured into more northern and eastern suburbs such as Palmdale, Moreno Valley and Lancaster.

They also shifted to close-in cities such as Long Beach and Hawthorne, which have historically had small black populations.

That migration pushed dramatic overall population growth in Riverside and San Bernardino counties--jurisdictions that showed the most growth among blacks of anywhere in the state--and solidified the possibility that the Inland Empire will gain a congressional seat when political redistricting occurs in coming months.

The shifts also drove home the reality of dwindling African American presence in Los Angeles neighborhoods, raising fears among blacks of diminished political power in the city.

"The main thing I heard from blacks who moved out here was affordable housing," said Hardy Brown, co-publisher of Riverside-based Black Voice News, a weekly journal. "You could get a good house, with a front yard and back yard. It was quiet and peaceful. The school system was close to them.

"The safety issue brought blacks out here."

However, many African American who left Los Angeles retain ties to jobs, family and churches in the sprawling city 70 miles west of the Inland Empire. Such patterns have, in the last 20 years, added to freeway congestion leading from eastern areas into Los Angeles at 5 a.m. on weekdays and created some unusual weekend commutes too.

It also has increased concerns of overcrowding, pollution and other urban problems in inland areas, experts and residents say.

Racial Migration Fuels Residential Segregation

Many places that experienced dramatic growth among African Americans in the 1990s also have seen striking departures of whites: Moreno Valley gained 27,500 blacks and lost nearly 22,000 whites. Long Beach grew by 66,800 blacks and lost nearly 60,000 whites.

Such patterns have fueled residential segregation, mirroring housing trends in central cities.

"Blacks are still the most segregated group in America," said Walt Hawkins, a demographer at Cal State San Bernardino and a political activist in the region. "That hasn't changed too much. There are still residuals of racism with housing."

In cities throughout the region that includes Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, African Americans made up less than 10% of residents in the vast majority of cities, the data show.

Despite the changes, some demographic details remained consistent with historical patterns: The areas with the highest concentration of blacks in the Los Angeles region included View Park, Compton and Ladera Heights.

Affluent coastal areas such as Newport Beach and Malibu have the lowest density of African Americans.

Throughout the state, the black population grew by 4.3%, compared to 13.8% for California's population of all racial and ethnic groups. In all, about 2.5 million blacks call California home--a number that makes California host to the most blacks in the nation.

But it is in the Inland Empire where area blacks increasingly chose to live in the 1990s.

"At least for the last 20 years, from 1980 to 2000, there has been a shift of African Americans from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire," said Max Nieman, a political scientist at UC Riverside. But he and others suggest that has slowed in the past five years or so.

Shifts in Black Population Slowing

Indeed, Brown's 25-year-old weekly paper saw its biggest jump in circulation and advertising--from readers west to the Los Angeles County line to as far east as Palm Desert--between 1985 and 1995, he said.

Experts believe that shifts in black population in the area have tapered recently since a housing boom in the farther reaches of San Bernardino and Riverside counties ended.

"Even some of the traditional middle-class places [for blacks in Los Angeles County] are losing folks," said Hawkins, who calls the area bounded by freeways north of Ontario and San Bernardino the "Ebony Triangle."

"Everybody's moving farther out."

Hawkins and others pointed out that such shifts are fueling concerns about the loss of black political power in the city of Los Angeles to Latinos and Asians. Yet they raised hopes that, in the Inland Empire, redistricting could bring more political clout to African Americans--who have been in the area for generations but have not had the numbers or economic power to greatly influence local politics.

"There's going to be a new [congressional] seat out here," Hawkins said. "There's no way to get around that."

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