Segregation Curtailed in U.S. Cities, Study Finds

Sam Roberts, New York Times, January 30, 2012

More than 40 years after the federal government enacted fair-housing legislation and the Great Migration of blacks from the South began to ebb, residential segregation in metropolitan America has been significantly curtailed, according to a study released Monday.

The study of census results from thousands of neighborhoods by two economics professors who are fellows at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, found that the nation’s cities are more racially integrated than at any time since 1910, that all-white enclaves “are effectively extinct” and that while black urban ghettos still exist they are shriveling.

An influx of immigrants and the gentrification of black neighborhoods contributed to the change, the study said, but suburbanization by blacks was even more instrumental.

The progress was less pronounced between blacks and non-Hispanic whites, though, than it has been between blacks and non-blacks.

The findings by the two professors—Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Jacob L. Vigdor of Duke—were generally seconded by a spectrum of other experts with several caveats and an admonition that the study should not be seen as declaring the end of all segregation. Also, barriers, like exclusionary zoning in the suburbs, persist, and the decline in busing to achieve racial integration means that some public schools are more segregated than before.

“There is now very much more black-white neighborhood integration than 40 years ago,” said Professor Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center. “Those of us who worked on segregation in the 1960s never anticipated such declines. Nevertheless, blacks remain considerably more segregated from whites than do Hispanics or Asians.”

Douglas Massey, a Princeton sociologist, said: “In terms of trends in black-white segregation, we really see two trends: in metro areas with small black populations we indeed observed sharp decreases in segregation; but in those with large black populations, the declines are much slower and at times nonexistent. Although all white neighborhoods have largely disappeared, this is more due to the entry of Latinos and Asians into formerly all-white neighborhoods.”

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Still, Professors Glaeser and Vigdor found that only 20 percent of blacks live in “ghetto” neighborhoods where 80 percent of the population or more is black, compared with nearly 50 percent who lived in similar neighborhoods a half-century ago.

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{snip} The analysis relied on the two most common segregation indexes: dissimilarity, which is the proportion of individuals of either group that would have to switch neighborhoods to achieve perfect integration, and isolation, which measures neighborhoods where the share of the population of one group surpasses the citywide average.

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Many of the cities with less segregation—or cities that demonstrated disproportionate gains in integration—are in the Sunbelt, where population growth has been greatest and immigrants have congregated. Those gains are attributable, in part, to the proliferation of subprime mortgages and threatened by the foreclosure crisis.

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“While it may be tempting to see the overwhelmingly white nature of many suburbs as evidence of stagnation or stasis, the presence of even modest numbers of African-Americans in suburbs demonstrates the remarkable change in American society,” the study said. {snip}

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