Political Power and Urban Decline

Article excerpt

Black mayors in urban America are in a dilemma: they achieve political power but inherit depleted treasuries and eroding economies. Why? First, black mayors gain power mainly due to white flight. In pursuit of this migrating market, many companies also leave, cutting business volume, trimming jobs and decreasing the tax base further. Second, big cities, regardless of who the mayors are, tend to create legislation that drives away business.

These economic shifts were revealed by comparing the relative redistribution of personal income between cities and suburbs. In 1969, after Cleveland elected ks first black mayor, personal income represented 85.1% of the total amount for the entire metropolitan statistical area (MSA). By 1990, the city's share of total income had fallen to 78.3%. During the same period, in Gary, Ind., the city-metro income share declined from 85.3% to 77.4%. In Washington, D.C., the city's share of income plunged from 24.3% to 14.2% over the same period of time.

The pattern appeared elsewhere. For example, in Atlanta, income fell from 37% in 1973 to 25.7% in 1990; in Los Angeles, the percentage dropped from 70.90/o to 61.1% over the same period, and Birmingham's share of metro personal income declined from 80.7% in 1979 to 76.3% in 1990. Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia displayed a similar decline in the 1980s.

The core businesses of most cities also suffered declines in manufacturing and in services. In Philadelphia between 1972 and 1982, retail stores shrank by 29.2%. Metro area stores decreased by only 11.8%. Comparatively, the city's share of stores fell from 40.4% to 32.4%, while retail sales plunged from 33.9% to 25.8%.

Among the cities studied, only Atlanta rebounded. Between 1967 and 1972, retail stores grew by 8.4% versus a gain of 27.8% in the metro area. But by 1977, city stores fell by 13%. In response to city officials' efforts to retain businesses and to attract new ones, retail outlets increased by 5. …