March 9, 2011

Racial segregation declines, but is the glass half full or half empty?

March 9, 2011

The latest Census numbers show continued (slow) decline in the racial segregation of metro areas.  Today, the average white American lives in a neighborhood that’s 7 percent black, 10 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian.  Three decades ago, the average white’s neighborhood was only 5 percent black, 5 percent Latino, and 1 percent Asian.   So lots of white people see their neighborhoods as diverse.  But even so, if you’re anything like the average white person, your neighbors are still overwhelmingly white.

The Average White Person’s Neighborhood

Today: In 1980:

The average black person’s neighborhood looks dramatically different: it’s about half black and only a third white.  These neighborhoods have actually gotten a lot more diverse over the last three decades, but that’s because many more Latinos now live in neighborhoods with blacks, not because more white people live there.

The Average Black Person’s Neighborhood –

Today: In 1980:

 

So although the doors to majority-white communities have opened a crack, most blacks and whites live apart.  Their neighborhoods are separate and unequal because the neighborhoods where most blacks and Latinos live still suffer from disinvestment and inferior public services.

Few minority neighborhoods – even comfortably middle-income ones – enjoy the shopping, parks, schools, or amenities that majority-white communities take for granted.  Try finding a Nordstrom, Trader Joe's, or J. Crew in the middle-class black neighborhoods of Maryland’s southern Prince George’s County.  Or compare the condition of the school buildings and athletic fields there to nearby (mostly white) Fairfax and Loudon Counties.  Black and Latino neighborhoods also have lower property values than white neighborhoods – even after you control for income levels.  And the foreclosure crisis hit black and Latino neighborhoods especially hard, sapping minority homeowners’ main source of wealth.

The most worrisome of segregation’s side effects occur in deeply poor neighborhoods, virtually all of which are predominantly black or Latino.  Poor whites are scattered across the landscape of metro America, living in the cheapest corners of neighborhoods that aren’t poor. Meanwhile, poor blacks and Latino are more often clustered in neighborhoods where many of their neighbors are also poor – the legacy of past discrimination and segregation.

Kids trapped in these pockets of poverty are at serious risk for a lifetime of deprivation and disadvantage.  Our country’s slow progress in opening up white neighborhoods to people of color hasn’t changed that grim reality.  What remains of the segregation problem is proving stubbornly difficult to overcome and exacts terrible costs, not just for minority kids, but for all of us.

Source for graphics: John Logan and Brian Stultz.

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Comments

Marge: Can you offer any explanations for the absence of shopping in middle-income black suburbs?

Possibilities include misperceptions about the purchasing power of these communities, fear of crime, or basic prejudice. Victor Rubin of PolicyLink wrote a commentary on this topic in Public Housing and the Legacy of Segregation.