Speaking at the annual Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday, she recalled how white families abandoned her once-diverse, middle-class Chicago community and others like it as more black families came into the neighborhood. And she warned that it’s still happening today as immigrants move into communities, spurring some white residents to pack up and leave.
“There were no gang fights, there were no territorial battles. Yet one by one, they packed their bags and they ran from us,” she said at the event. “And they left communities in shambles.”
White flight often results in lower property values, more vacant homes, and the general decline of the neighborhood. Yet the communities that experience it typically start out as middle-class, according to an academic article published last year in the journal Social Science Research.
“Whites are willing to tolerate a certain level of diversity, but once it crosses a threshold, white flight becomes likelier to occur,” said Samuel Kye, who carried out the study, in a statement accompanying his article. Kye is an Indiana University Bloomington sociology doctoral candidate. “Once the nonwhite groups become 20% to 25% of the population, that’s when it flips.”
That was what Obama experienced growing up on Chicago’s South Side. The city is the fourth most segregated metropolitan area in the nation, according to a recent report from 24/7 Wall St.
“You were running from us and you’re still running, because we’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in … the families that are coming from other places to try to do better,” Obama said. Her brother, Craig Robinson, an executive with the New York Knicks, was also in attendance.
But statistics show that having immigrants move into a community decreases crime rather than boosting it. With every 1% increase in the foreign-born population, there were 4.9 fewer crimes per 100,000 people, according to a 2016 Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice study.
However, a 1% increase in immigrants in a community is met by a 1% rise in rental prices, according to a 2006 Journal of Urban Economics paper. On the other hand, home prices tend to rise faster in areas with low numbers of immigrants—presumably because some people are willing to pay more to live in a neighborhood with fewer foreigners.
“We were doing everything we were supposed to do—and better,” Obama said. “But when we moved in, white families moved out.”
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