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  • Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets by Leah Platt Boustan
  • Farley Grubb
Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets. By Leah Platt Boustan. NBER Series on Long-Term Factors in Economic Development. ( Princeton and Oxford, Eng.: Princeton University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 197. $29.95, ISBN 978–0-691–15087-1.)

Leah Platt Boustan examines the migration of southern black people to northern cities in the United States during a peak migration period between 1940 and 1970. She focuses on how this migration affected the wages of inmigrants and existing black residents in northern cities. Boustan also examines the magnitude of white flight to the suburbs outside these northern cities and considers how it was causally connected to southern black migration. [End Page 209]

Quantitative analysis dominates Competition in the Promised Land: Black Migrants in Northern Cities and Labor Markets. Boustan's goal is to estimate the extent of certain effects and to tease out their individual causal contributions. She identifies the migration's "winners and losers in the black community" (p. 6). Southern black in-migrants were winners because they experienced substantial wage gains. The labor markets in northern cities were racially segregated enough to cause existing black residents to face the brunt of this new labor competition, thus making them losers. Boustan estimates that existing black residents lost significant wage growth due to this competition. Finally, she estimates the magnitude of white flight from the cities to the suburbs and teases out how much was due to the effect of new black neighbors rather than the migration's secondary effects on city services and property taxes.

Boustan employs numerous simple yet clever data methods to identify causality and control for selectivity. For example, in addition to matching individuals across censuses, the author creates a sample of brothers, "one or more of whom moved to the North," which she compares with "southern-born men who remained in the South by race" (p. 52). Similarly, Boustan examines northern cities at the neighborhood level, contrasting the value of comparable housing in adjacent white neighborhoods that were on the city-suburban border to determine how the city and black neighbors influenced white flight. She then quantifies the effects of flight on housing prices.

Boustan's presentation is geared toward the general reader. Technical details of procedural methods, economic theories, and statistical findings are explained in understandable prose, and the complex details of economic modeling, statistical estimating procedures, and estimated output are confined to chapter appendixes. To assist the general reader, complex statistical findings are displayed in graphical form in the main text rather than in a standard regression output format. These graphs, however, are often not easily decipherable, and they require close reading of lengthy caption notes. The author also occasionally conflates terms, such as changes in the black population in northern cities with changes in southern black migration to northern cities. While these two subjects are closely related, their conflation might confuse some readers.

In conclusion, the book provides significant new insights into the causes of changing residential segregation as well as estimates of how southern black migration to northern cities between 1940 and 1970 affected the wages of black in-migrants and black existing residents. The methods Boustan employs to sort out effects and causes are edifying, just as important as her results, and make Competition in the Promised Land worth reading. It is highly recommended for anyone studying mid-twentieth-century black migration in the United States and racially segregated labor markets and housing patterns in northern American cities. Future political and social histories on black migration to northern cities that rely on personal histories and social discourse to illustrate migration will have to be consistent with and embedded in the larger framework of quantitative patterns and causal contributions that Boustan has established. [End Page 210]

Farley Grubb
University of Delaware


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