Study Finds U.S. Cities Less Segregated

Although residential segregation is at its lowest point in a century, economic and social disparities persist.

A new study from the Manhattan Institute has found that American neighborhoods have become significantly less segregated in the past century. All-white neighborhoods “are effectively extinct,” it found, and the proportion of African-Americans living in so-called “ghettos,” where 80 percent or more of the population is Black, has shrunk to 20 percent. Fifty years ago, half of the Black population lived in ghetto neighborhoods.


The change can be attributed in part to the migration of Blacks to Sun Belt cities and suburbs in search of greater economic opportunities, as well as the gentrification of Black urban neighborhoods and an infusion of Asian and Latino immigrants.


“Residential segregation has declined pervasively, as ghettos depopulate and the nation’s population center shifts toward the less segregated Sun Belt,” wrote Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Jacob L. Vigdor of Duke, the study’s authors. “At the same time, there has been only limited progress in closing achievement and employment gaps between Blacks and whites.”


As the study notes, the nation’s largest urban centers, such as Milwaukee, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, are still very racially segregated. As a result, public school systems are inadequate and unemployment rates higher.


The study shows positive signs, said Algernon Austin, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program, “but for African-Americans, there’s still a long way to go, especially when looking at the largest population areas.” Moreover, many African-Americans don’t have whole lot of choice about where they live.


“When surveyed about what their ideal community looks like, it’s not a community where 70 to 90 percent of the residents are African-American. It’s not simply a matter of choice; there are racial and economic factors driving the housing patterns,” Austin explains. “If African-Americans had better jobs, better wages and higher levels of wealth, the places that they could afford to live [in] would be expanded.”


He suggests that African-Americans devote an amount of time equal to or more that they spend celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Black History Month to acknowledge some of the goals not yet realized, such as a fully integrated study, and how to achieve them.


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(Photo: Matt Nager/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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