U.S. Return Migration and the Decline in Southern Black Disadvantage, 1970-2000

Curtis, Katherine
Working paper no. 2011-02


Objective. This study investigates how the Return Migration altered racial inequality in poverty in the American South.

Methods. I disaggregate southern poverty into its separate constituents using household data from the IPUMS for 1970 through 2000.

Results. The prevalence of poverty declined most dramatically for black southern households and the racial gap in poverty narrowed to the extent that once substantial regional differences disappeared. A central focus is the contrast between higher poverty and inequality among migrants who returned to their birth state relative to other southern-born migrants who returned to the South.

Conclusions. The migration experience is diverse and has conflicting consequences for racial inequality; for some, migration maintained economic vulnerability. Given the complex force of migration, I conclude that a nuanced theoretical approach to migration that gives weight to economic and non-economic motivations is critical to understand the racial dimensions of migration and the associated changes in racial inequality.