The blog of the Urban Institute
September 30, 2020

Residential Segregation Is Declining. How Can We Continue to Increase Inclusion?

For centuries, systems built on white supremacy and racist policies at all levels of government have driven residential segregation in the United States. Residents of segregated neighborhoods and entire economies pay the costs. In Chicago, segregation is associated with lower incomes for Black residents, lower levels of bachelor’s degree attainment for Black and white residents, lower life expectancy for all residents, and higher homicide rates.

The good news is that racial residential segregation is declining, though the pace may be plodding and the contraction uneven. In our recently updated data on inclusion for 274 US cities, we measure income segregation by comparing the variation in family incomes between all census tracts in a city and racial segregation using an index that quantifies the equitable distribution of people of color and non-white Hispanic people across a city’s census tracts. We use the broad terms “people of color” and “non-Hispanic white people” so we can compare cities with differing demographic patterns while limiting the size of sampling error for groups within cities with small populations. However, we recognize that the people categorized under these terms have unique experiences with state-sanctioned, institutionalized, systemic, and individual forms of racism.

How cities fared on racial segregation

On average, across the 274 cities sampled, we saw significant reductions in racial segregation between 1980 and 2016.Interestingly, income segregation has not followed the same trajectory. Despite slight improvements over certain periods, cities on the whole experienced a greater degree of income segregation in 2016 than in 1980.

Annual average change in residential segregation across 247 of the largest US cities

Between 2013 and 2016 (the most recent year data were available), racial segregation continued to decline across our cities on average, though slower than in previous years. Of the 274 cities, 192 improved on racial segregation, while 82 worsened. Duluth, Minnesota, and Camden, New Jersey, saw the most substantial improvements during this period, rising 71 and 47 ranks, respectively. Meanwhile, Fargo, North Dakota, and Fairfield, California, saw the most marked worsening, falling 49 and 44 rankings.  


Cities with the Greatest Reductions in Racial Segregation

City

State

Racial Segregation Rank 2013

Racial Segregation Rank 2016

Change

Duluth

MN

106

35

+71

Camden

NJ

145

98

+47

Abilene

TX

139

95

+44

Santa Clara

CA

71

29

+42

Manchester

NH

90

48

+42

Source: Author calculations from US Census Bureau data.


Cities with the Worst Expansions of Racial Segregation

City

State

Racial Segregation Rank 2013

Racial Segregation Rank 2016

Change

Billings

MT

79

119

-40

Elizabeth

NJ

83

125

-42

Independence

MO

24

68

-44

Fairfield

CA

39

83

-44

Fargo

ND

84

133

-49

Source: Author calculations from US Census Bureau data.


How cities fared on income segregation

On the whole, cities reduced their income segregation between 2013 and 2016. In 178 cities, income segregation declined between 2013 and 2016, but 96 cities experienced increased income segregation. Some cities saw substantial improvement in this time period, with North Las Vegas, Nevada, rising 50 rankings on this indicator in this short time span. But others experienced declines, including Midland, Texas, which fell 52 rankings—perhaps as a result of housing affordability pressures as the Permian Basin underwent an oil boom.  


Cities with the Greatest Reduction in Income Segregation

City

State

Racial Segregation Rank 2013

Racial Segregation Rank 2016

Change

North Las Vegas

NV

115

65

+50

Pasadena

TX

187

138

+49

Reno

NV

252

203

+49

Chula Vista

CA

192

143

+49

Duluth

MN

179

130

+49

Source: Author calculations from US Census Bureau data.


Cities with the Worst Expansions of Income Segregation

City

State

Racial Segregation Rank 2013

Racial Segregation Rank 2016

Change

Savannah

GA

109

153

-44

Baton Rouge

LA

208

254

-46

Burbank

CA

33

79

-46

Midland

TX

65

117

-52

Jackson

MS

167

233

-66

Source: Author calculations from US Census Bureau data.


How can cities continue on the path of inclusivity?

For cities to truly embrace inclusivity, they must focus on how their policies and systems shape their physical landscape, the choices their residents have in where to live, and the links between place and opportunity at the neighborhood level. Understanding and tracking both racial and income segregation over time at the city level is a first step toward advocating for and driving policy solutions to dismantle an unjust past and present.

If cities across the country are to forge more inclusive futures, policymakers, legislators, and planners must directly confront the legacy of segregation they perpetuate, which has created and worsened disparities in employment, education, environment, housing, and opportunity.

A man walks his dog on August 20, 2013, in the Whitman Park neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey. The town of Camden, which was once a large industrial town but watched its population dwindle as manufacturing left, has been marred with societal problems including high unemployment, crime, murder, and heavy drug trafficking for decades. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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