Racial Inequality in Southern Poverty, 1970-2000: Compositional and Spatial Dynamics of Black Return Migration

Curtis, Katherine, and Jack DeWaard
Working paper no. 2011-03


This research examines how black return migration shaped racial inequality in local-area poverty in the U.S. South. Using census data for 1970 and 2000, we build from inequality and migration theory to investigate the consequences of migration on black-white differences in southern county poverty rates over the Return Migration period. Migration influences inequality through its impact on population composition. We find support for the racial threat thesis; the relative size of the black population is a key driver of inequality in poverty. We also find that migration impacts inequality through the embedded selection process. Overall, the results show return migration contributed to declines in racial inequality in southern poverty in recent decades with different implications for “new” and “old” southern destinations. Our results imply that models of black-white inequality are enhanced by accounting for the interplay of population composition and population processes generating local-area composition.