Over the next 20 years, the share of blacks in the population more than tripled. Maryland’s once rural, predominantly white county on the district’s eastern flank has gradually morphed into the wealthiest majority black county in the country, becoming a potent symbol of black advancement – proof that, stereotypes put to rest apart, prosperous suburbs didn’t have to be white.
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But is Prince George still the wealthiest majority black county in America? Answering that question started a long and winding quest that I’m going to spoil here: it’s not.
Once confined to Prince George’s County by a combination of discrimination and other factors, high-income black Americans now have other options. And they are spreading.
Today, Charles County has some of the highest incomes in Maryland and its black population is thriving. The typical household in Charles — a former tobacco county that sprawls south of Prince George’s off the Potomac — pulls in $104,000 a year, easily surpassing the median income of $86,000 in Prince George and the national median of 65,000 $. And many indicators suggest that Charles has gone majority black during the pandemic, if not earlier.
The 2020 census marks Charles as 49.2% black, down from 18.2% in 1990. But the 2020 count, muddied by the coronavirus and skewed by Trump administration guidelines, undercounted the black population nationally by 3.3% and overvalued whites by 1.6%.
A separate Census Bureau source, the American Community Survey, puts Charles at 50.6% black by 2019. A statistical marvel of the modern world, the ACS surveys more than 2 million households annually and underpins the Census Bureau’s most cited economic and demographic data. estimates. The ACS did not calculate 2020 figures as the pandemic halted its regular data collection, but its one-year estimates show a clear trend.
Like many federal statistics, the numbers above apply only to a population referred to as “black only,” that is, people who marked only black or African American on their forms. If they marked Black and one or more other races, they are counted as “Black in combination”.
Not all of these people would identify as black. But a strict “Black alone” metric excludes people such as former President Barack Obama and Vice President Harris, who have publicly identified as Black despite having only one Black parent. In other words, the “Blacks Only” counts likely undercount the Black population, although it’s impossible to put a precise number on the undercount.
The racial and class distinctions that make Prince George and Charles outliers in the national race and income charts have their roots in the migration of the black middle class out of the district in the 1980s and 1990s. era, a range of circumstances led to Prince George’s rise as an avatar of the township dream.
Prince George’s had several long-standing black towns and was geographically close to the eastern black side of the district, said historian George Derek Musgrove of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. And by banding together with other black people, residents of Prince George could protect themselves from the discrimination that African Americans often face in white suburbs.
Now, Musgrove said, circumstances have changed. “African Americans have other choices. And if you look at some of the suburbs around Prince George – Montgomery or Charles County or even Howard County to the north – they have good schools and in many cases better amenities. And a growing number of African Americans are choosing them.
A few years ago, the district briefly flirted with becoming the wealthiest majority black jurisdiction in the country. But when incomes in DC soared, the black population plummeted. Longtime residents were displaced by diverse and well-heeled newcomers. By the time incomes in DC surpassed those in Prince George, blacks were no longer a majority in “Chocolate City.”
There are other counties where the typical black household earns more: The highest-income black families in the country actually live on the western edge of the DC metro area in Virginia’s Loudoun County, which is also home to the highest income. But while black families in Loudoun earn $127,000 a year (compared to a countywide average of $147,000), they make up only 8% of the population.
Atlanta is the only metro area that can challenge the DC region on these measures, but none of its suburbs surpasses Prince George, Charles, or the district itself in terms of overall median income. Major metro Atlanta counties Fulton (44% Black, $80,000) and DeKalb (54% Black, $64,000) come closest. The southeastern suburbs of Henry County (48% Black, $72,000) and Rockdale County (56% Black, $61,000 per year) are not far behind.
Just as the District was the largest source of newcomers to Prince George, Prince George’s is the largest source of newcomers to Charles County. And people who move to Charles tend to prosper.
The number of black households earning $200,000 or more a year in Charles County quadrupled between 2009 and 2020, according to a Washington Post analysis of ACS data. It was by far the fastest growing group of black wage earners in the county during this period. As with Prince George, Charles County’s revenues grew as the black population grew.
Where is the new epicenter of the region’s large black middle class? In a word: Waldorf. The Forest Commuter Paradise has grown faster than anywhere else in Maryland in the past 30 years. In 1990, about 15,000 people lived there, 82% of them white. In 2020, more than 81,000 people lived there, 64% of them black.
Kenya Young, a realtor with national real estate brokerage firm Redfin, said people are drawn to Charles County for its diversity, both in terms of population and geography, including an extensive network of waterways. which feed the Patuxent and the mighty Potomac. Your money goes further than in whiter counties like Montgomery, and you can sprawl out for a few acres while still being minutes from the supermarket.
“Charles County kind of gives you the best of both worlds,” said Young, who herself lives just outside of Waldorf. “If you go far enough, you get the seafront, you get farmland. Or if you want to be in the community, but still suburban, you can come to Waldorf.
“I see a lot of people coming because they want to be on the water,” she said. “They want a creek. They want chickens.
In terms of racial makeup, Young said, “it’s not that buyers are looking for people of the same race, but they just want diversity.”
Karyn Lacy, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, wrote “Blue-Chip Black,” a study of black families in suburban DC. She said places like Waldorf provide a safe haven for professional black families.
While falling house prices may initially attract them, “making sure their kids get in touch with other black people like them is key,” Lacy said. “Living in a community where black professionals are present in large numbers means that their children grow up with the perception that successful black people are normal and not aberrant.”
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