White Flight:

Starting in the 1950s, many people living in New Orleans began moving to the suburbs – mostly white people. Research suggests that the reasons for this are many, and unfortunately, they are mostly based in racism.

Many whites moved after desegregation to ensure that their children would not have to go to school with African Americans. And many whites felt that moving to all-white suburbs would help them to achieve higher social status among their peers who might look down on them for staying in the city.

Some historians claim that the movement of white people to the suburbs happened simply because more homes were being built in the suburbs, new highways like the I-10 loop made the suburbs more accessible, and whites, who historically have had higher incomes than African Americans, moved because they could afford to. This explanation does not hold because African Americans of greater means — of whom there were many — did not move to the suburbs along with whites. It is well-known that people of color were denied access to suburban homeownership opportunities by banks and realtors through a process known as “redlining.”

White Flight itself hurt many New Orleans neighborhoods as retail businesses lost customers and many had to close. But larger economic changes, having nothing to do with white flight, hurt New Orleans neighborhoods just as much. Since the 1950s, manufacturing businesses have moved out of the Orleans neighborhoods where they once flourished, removing resident access to middle-income jobs. And as the U.S. economy shifted from goods-producing to service-producing, jobs began to be polarized into low-wage and high-wage employment. Few middle-income jobs are left for New Orleans residents, and those that are left often have higher education as a requirement of employment – unlike in the past. These factors have plunged what were once healthy, working-class neighborhoods (including many of our housing developments) into deeper and longer-lasting poverty.

In recent years, many professional African Americans, too, have left inner city neighborhoods around the country as illegal “redlining” practices were exposed. And there is some evidence that whites are responding by moving to even farther suburbs. Perhaps the saddest effect of the departure of professional African Americans on New Orleans neighborhoods is the social isolation in which residents are left. We all know that most jobs are acquired through tips from friends and acquaintances (and there’s plenty of research that proves this to be the most common means of hearing about a job). When most inner-city residents only come into contact with other people who don’t have jobs, their chances of improving their life situation are slim.

Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson summarizes the situation this way:

The sources of current problems in the inner city are exceedingly complex and their amelioration calls for imaginative and comprehensive programs of economic and social reform that are in sharp contrast to the current approaches to social policy in America, which are based on short-term political considerations.


For more information on White Flight:

White Flight: The Effect of Minority Presence on Post World War II Suburbanization by Eric Bickford, University of California-Berkeley

'White flight' still drives state's population shifts: Middle-class blacks also flocking to suburbs, June 2001

“WHITE FLIGHT” a poem by Robert B. Cooke

Lafayette's student drain: WHITE FLIGHT, Aug 1998

Is there white flight into private schools?: Evidence from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey, Nov 2000 By Alexandra M. Reich3
[pdf document requires Adobe Acrobat Reader] econ.ucsc.edu/~fairlie/papers/whiteflight19.pdf

Wilson, William Julius. The Truly Disadvantaged: the inner city, the underclass, and public policy. University of Chicago Press, 1987.