Memphis didn’t get the memo during the last municipal election, but having a black woman mayor pays off — at least for other black women, according to recent livability report published by CityLab. Sadly, Memphis ranks as one of the worst U.S. cities for a black woman to live.
Several Southern cities topped CityLab’s livability list for black women, including those helmed by African American women, like Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, Vi Lyles of Charlotte, N.C., North Carolina, and Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. And up North, Chicago is giving a black woman a chance by electing Lori Lightfoot, the first black woman mayor in that Great Migration city’s history.
While the fact of those mayors may be coincidence, here is what the analysis clearly shows: Of 42 metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 black women residents, Memphis ranks in the bottom 10 in outcomes for health (ninth worst); education (seventh worst) and economics (10th worst), CityLab’s Brentin Mock writes.
Overall, Memphis is ranked the eighth-worst place for black women to live.
Then again, with a 33.8% poverty rate and majority black, these outcomes likely come with the territory: “Poverty in Memphis has increased markedly for all ages and for non-Hispanic Blacks as a whole, while decreasing for non-Hispanic Whites and for Latinos,” according to Dr. Elena Delavega’s 2019 Poverty Fact Sheet at the University of Memphis.
CityLab collaborated with researcher Junia Howell, a University of Pittsburgh sociology professor, to analyze best metros for black women based on a ranked livability index looking at inequities for black women in income status, health conditions and educational accomplishment. The average values across all three of those categories were used to determine how metros ranked for black women’s overall outcomes.
Washington, D.C., tops the ranking for overall livability, followed by Boston, Baltimore, Raleigh, Dallas and Greensboro, North Carolina, according to CityLab’s analysis.
D.C. and Baltimore win the education and economy stakes, likely because they are home to numerous universities and hospitals, and enjoy a strong concentration of military posts and public sector institutions, the report suggests. (Baltimore doesn’t do well on health indicators.) In these cities, the government is the second-largest employer of black women.
Memphis’ poor ranking makes it an exception in the region. Nashville stands at №15, on the winning side of outcomes for black women. Raleigh, Dallas, Greensboro, Atlanta and Houston ranked fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-best overall, respectively. Orlando comes in at No. 10, and Charlotte is the 11th best city for black women.
Among states, North Carolina is the best represented with plentiful sources of jobs in private industry and a robust higher education sector.
Memphis is not totally alone in the South: New Orleans was seventh-worst, and Augusta, Georgia, was third-worst for black women.
Stark pay inequity affects black women everywhere in the United States, where they earn about 61 cents for every dollar made by white men, according to the D.C.-based National Partnership for Women & Families. In Tennessee, black women earn 66 cents for every dollar a white man earns.
The Midwest fared poorly in the analysis because metros with the largest populations of black women had the worst outcomes with Cleveland bracing the bottom of the list of worst cities for black women.
Rankings like these won’t stop Veda Ajamu, who is convening a group of black women today at the National Civil Rights Museum with life coach Sharolyn Payton, as part of her Inspired Women group, which aims to connect women in mutual support.
“There are many extraordinary women in Memphis with major skills and talents who are not being mentored nor inspired,” said Ajamu about the goal of Inspired Women. “We need to get back to the basics — inspiring, supporting and lifting each other up as women.”
MLK50: Justice Through Journalism will continue to unpack the structural elements that contribute to poor outcomes for black women in Memphis. Stay tuned for additional reporting that analyzes the data, adds context and hands the mic to black women here who face structural barriers to economic progress — but are striving nevertheless.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and public policy. Support independent journalism by makinga tax-deductible donationtoday. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Community Change. Sign up for our newsletter.