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Despite substantial progress since passage of the Fair Housing Act four decades ago, neighborhoods remain highly segregated by race and ethnicity. This paper summarizes existing research evidence on both the costs of segregation and the potential benefits of neighborhood diversity. It uses decennial census data to show that a growing share of US neighborhoods are racially and ethnically diverse, but that low-income African Americans in particular remain highly concentrated in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Because the dynamics that sustain segregation today are complex, strategies for overcoming them must address not only discrimination, but information gaps, affordability constraints, prejudice, and fear.
In January 2009, a black family
moved into the White House. The election of Barack
Obama embodies the considerable progress our country
has made in the struggle against racial prejudice,
inequality, and exclusion. But it also challenges us to
look frankly at the disparities that remain, including
the persistent separation of neighborhoods based on
race and ethnicity.
This paper summarizes the substantial body of evidence
that residential segregation undermines the
well-being of individuals, communities, and American
society as a whole. Although we know much less
about the potential benefits of neighborhood diversity
than about the costs of segregation, considerable
research finds that both whites and minorities gain
from diverse communities. Encouragingly, a growing
share of U.S. neighborhoods are racially and ethnically
diverse, both because recent immigration has
made the population much more diverse and because
fewer neighborhoods than in the past exclude
minorities entirely. But overall levels of segregation
are declining only slowly, and low-income African
Americans in particular remain highly concentrated
in predominantly minority neighborhoods. The goal of healthy, sustainable communities cannot be
achieved as long as current levels of neighborhood
segregation, exclusion, and inequality persist.
Public policies played a central role in establishing
and enforcing patterns of racial segregation in American
neighborhoods, alongside discriminatory practices
by private-sector institutions and individuals. But no
single causal process explains the persistence of residential
segregation in America today. Discrimination,
information gaps, stereotypes and fears, and disparities
in purchasing power all work together to perpetuate
segregation, even though many Americans—minority
and white—say they want to live in more diverse
neighborhoods. Public policies must intervene to
break the cycle of residential segregation. But, because
the causes of segregation are interconnected, no single
intervention can succeed on its own. Instead, we need
multidimensional strategies that tackle the multiple
causes of segregation simultaneously.
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