Posted on June 28, 2021

The U.S. Is Increasingly Diverse, So Why Is Segregation Getting Worse?

Alana Semuels, Time, June 21, 2021

The integration battles of the Civil Rights era happened more than half a century ago, but the U.S. is getting more, not less, segregated, as that past recedes.

More than 80% of large metropolitan areas in the United States were more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990, according to an analysis of residential segregation released Monday by the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. The U.S. has become more diverse over time, which has obscured the persistence of segregation, the report finds. Metropolitan areas aren’t all-white, all-Black, or all-Latino, but within metropolitan areas, the different races are clustered in segregated neighborhoods, creating social and economic divisions that can fuel unrest.

“The U.S. continues to be a place of segregation, not integration,” says Stephen Menendian, assistant director at the Othering & Belonging Institute, which studies the roots of social and economic inequality in the United States.

The report breaks new ground by looking at how the racial makeup of census tracts differs significantly from the racial makeup of the larger metropolitan area that surround them. Areas may appear to be integrated because they are home to many different racial groups, when in fact those groups live completely apart. The city of Detroit is 80% Black, for instance, while Grosse Pointe, a suburb that shares a border with the city, is 90% white.

Detroit is the most segregated city in the U.S., according to the report, followed by Hialeah, Fla., in Miami-Dade County, and then Newark, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. Only two of the 113 cities with populations of 200,000 or more qualified as integrated—Colorado Springs, Colo., and St. Lucie, Fla. Many of the more integrated regions are areas with military bases, the researchers said—because segregation is so prevalent, it takes a concerted government effort to bring different races together.


Integration is good for everyone: children who grow up in multiracial surroundings tend to be less anxious about racial differences, more empathetic and more caring about others. White people who grow up in highly segregated communities of color have lower incomes than white people who grow up in highly segregated white neighborhoods. Black children raised in highly segregated communities of color make $4,000 less per year than Black children raised in white neighborhoods, and $1,000 less than those raised in integrated neighborhoods, the Berkeley analysis found.


If nothing else, the report shows that efforts to integrate most of America’s housing—like efforts to integrate its schools—have fallen short. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of race, but it had few provisions that would force integration in the same way the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision did. Its one shot was a provision that directed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to “affirmatively further fair housing.” Cities using federal money to build public housing were supposed to try to place at least some of that public housing in diverse neighborhoods.