Not just a matter of keeping a black middle class, it’s attracting them

I’ve been giving a lot of thought since my last post about the Black middle class in the District. I mentioned one of the great things the not so great former Marion “Mayor For Life” Berry did was help create a

Page from 1930 Census

sizable black middle class by getting African Americans in the city hired in city government and city contracts. BUT… that sizable Black middle class moved to Ward 9, aka Prince George’s County, Maryland. There is a large black middle class in the DC Metro Area, but the concentration is over in Maryland, not in the District.

The Georgetown report, the US Census, various authors and commentators have noticed that DC will no longer be majority minority (Chocolate) city if current trends continue. The Georgetown report suggests halting the trend by trying to keep DC’s predominately native Black population with various programs targeted at low income households. And maybe that won’t help at all because maybe DC never produced enough natives to make a difference and the key is attracting African Americans to the city.

DC’s Afro-American population had two big growth spurts I can think of, the Civil War and the Great Migration. There was slavery in DC but not a lot compared to the surrounding areas of MD and VA. During and after the war, a number of black people flooded into the city and Union held areas for safety and opportunity. These Freedmen, were not DC natives, and their country rural ways were not necessarily welcomed by black DC natives. The Great Migration, where Southern African Americans moved North, and DC is a North/South hybrid brought more rural Blacks into the city.

Looking at my own research for Truxton Circle, specifically the data for the 1930 census, when the neighborhood became overwhelmingly African American, a majority were not DC natives. There were 4866 people living in the neighborhood, a little under half of those (all races) were DC natives. With 3798, the TC was majority black, yet only 1443 were DC natives. Of black household heads and wives (1,476), to exclude children most likely born in DC, 349 were born in DC.

To me it looks like the problem of loss of DC’s Black population and particularly the near disappearance of the Black middle class is not attracting enough Black people into the city to live. DC has not grown it’s large Black population booms through childbirth. DC has become very attractive to young white people, the city has just got to figure out how to make it attractive to young hip up and coming black people.

Is DC interested in keeping the Black middle class? IDK

1900 blk houseSo I’ve read the report out of Georgetown University’s report State of African Americans in DC: Employment,  and as a member of the black middle class there is nothing, zero, in the report about keeping the middle class Afro-American families in DC. The purpose of the report (PDF), as stated on page 2, is to analyze trends and “offer ideas about how to halt the flow of African Americans out of Washington, D.C.” However, the report I read was about attempting to support low and no income people in DC, who in our city are primarily people of color.

There is an error everyone makes, even I make this mistake from time to time, and that is the equation: Afro-American=Low Income. Yes, the median household income of African American households is less than White American households, but the median income is not necessarily low income.  But to be fair this related to the Mayor’s Commission of African American Affairs, and its mission is primarily focused on low-income African Americans.

The report doesn’t completely ignore the Black middle class, it mentions the flight of the AfAm middle class from the city and a decline in the Black middle class. It also mention’s the former Marion Barry’s contribution. Before he was known for crack and sex, Barry did grow the Black middle class in DC with contracts requiring minority businesses and hiring a lot of people for DC government jobs. Unfortunately, many of those middle class DC government workers wandered across the border to PG County. The problem with making DC government offices a Black employment program are a lot of people who didn’t answer the damned phone when you needed city services, but I digress.

This report, because its focus is not creating and keeping a Black middle class, doesn’t even suggest doing what Barry did (at least with the creation part).

I should also mention that DC lacks a white low class community, so like the error of equating black with poor, there is the habit of equating white= middle class/ rich. Therefore, most programs for low income populations will be for people of color, and more often African Americans.

Yes, I am faulting the report for being something other than what I would like it to be. I want it to show how DC can grow and keep a Black middle class. DC seems like a place with racially diverse workplaces so I’m not sure what more DC DOES, can do for equal opportunities for the kind of jobs being created in the city. The Project Empowerment doesn’t seem to work with the kind of careers that lead people to the middle class. SYEP is hit or miss on the path to the middle class.

The report does say: “The city must create a pipeline from its high schools to careers such as nursing, radiology, EMT, and physician’s assistants, which typically pay a living wage or better. D.C. can start by reconfiguring the Career Academies and CTE programs administered by DCPS to be geared toward these careers.” Yes, something beyond a living wage to a thriving wage should be a goal.

Regarding housing there is nothing mentioned for the Black middle class. There is a program, actually a whole DC agency that could help the Black middle class become homeowners. The DC Housing Finance Agency has HPAP, which helps with the downpayment, with strings…… DCHFA has various homebuying assistance programs which can help people buy their first home in DC and homeowners are more likely to stay, or stay longer than renters.

I think it is a good thing to try to keep a sizable African American population in the District, for the sake of keeping the city a comfortable place for people like me and bi-racial families like mine. I think DC does itself a disservice not to try to make sure that a chunk of the AfAm community is middle class and figure out how to keep them/us.