Study of Census Data Finds a Segregated America, Especially for Blacks

US News, July 24, 2012

While some have called the 21st century the end of segregation in American society, new research comes to a very different conclusion.

Researchers at Dartmouth, the University of Georgia, and the University of Washington decided to look at neighborhood data from the U.S. Census in 1990, 2000, and 2010 to compare trends in racial diversity. They then created “cartographic visualizations” of 53 large metropolitan areas and every state in the United States. What they found might—or might not—surprise you.

While the census data did show an increase in racial diversity in the country’s largest cities over the past 20 years, several other trends are also evident—African-Americans remain concentrated in segregated neighborhoods; highly diverse neighborhoods are actually rare; and newly arrived immigrants continue to settle in concentrated racial residential patterns.

Their research, recently published in the Professional Geographer, clearly showed patterns and changes in neighborhood racial configuration in major cities by examining the degree to which groups share residential space in each of the neighborhoods (or “census tracts,” a unit of analysis that the U.S. Census uses to define a neighborhood).

And what they found in major cities is that, while there are no longer neighborhoods that are all black or all white, segregation still exists. In short, the researchers found that segregation has declined, but not nearly as much as most people generally believe.

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“The trend we’ve seen is for predominantly white tracts to become more racially diverse,” [professor Richard] Wright said. “We’ve also seen an increase in the number of tracts that are Latino-dominated and un-diverse, and a greater count of Asian-dominated tracts that are un-diverse.

“And this is because of immigration. African-Americans have a longer history of settlement in the United States. And while the number of low-diversity African-American neighborhoods has declined a little, it’s nowhere near the same rate as low-diversity, white-dominated tracts. So old histories are getting rewritten in these metropolitan areas, but African-Americans remain segregated,” he said.

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