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USA: Racial Segregation Continues, and Even Intensifies:

Manhattan Institute report heralding the “end” of segregation uses a measure that masks important demographic and economic trends

Tuesday 7 February 2012, by siawi3

By Richard Rothstein

Source: Economic Policy Institute, February 3, 2012

In a study released this week, two Manhattan Institute
researchers heralded the "end of the segregated
century." Harvard professor Edward Glaeser and Duke
professor Jacob Vigdor showed that African American
segregation levels have now declined to their lowest
point since 1920, just after the beginning of the "Great
Migration" of rural sharecroppers from the South to
Northern industrial metropolitan regions.

From 2010 Census data, professors Glaeser and Vigdor
calculate changes in what sociologists term
“dissimilarity indices.” They find a national
dissimilarity (or segregation) rate of about 55 percent
for African Americans-in other words, “only” 55 percent
of African Americans would now have to move to
neighborhoods with more non-blacks in order to evenly
distribute the black population throughout all
neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas. This is a
substantial decline from the segregation level of about
80 percent in 1970.

The report attributes this success primarily to legal
prohibitions on housing discrimination. The Manhattan
Institute aggressively promoted its report, which was
then heavily covered in the media with headlines like
“Segregation Curtailed in U.S. Cities, Study Finds” and
“Study finds black segregation lowest in century,” and
with celebratory op-eds by the report’s authors
(“Desegregation Is an Unsung U.S. Success Story”; "Why
Your Block is More Integrated").

But the celebrations are premature. Although the
Manhattan Institute’s Census data were accurate, a 55
percent dissimilarity rate can hardly be called the
“end” of segregation. And segregation can only get
worse, not better. Because the epidemic of foreclosures
has disproportionately affected African Americans, many
blacks who were able to move to predominantly white
neighborhoods in the last decade will undoubtedly
relocate back to poorer and more racially isolated black
neighborhoods. This likely reversal of dissimilarity
decline will only show up in future census analyses.

More important, however, dissimilarity indices do not
describe what most people mean when they think of a
segregated society, and they don’t point policymakers to
the most critical problems facing the country which, by
more relevant measures, is becoming more segregated, not

Recent declines in dissimilarity have had complex
causes: One is that low-income Hispanic (and in some
regions, Asian) immigrants have moved into neighborhoods
that previously were mostly black. This reduces the
proportion of blacks in those neighborhoods (and thus
causes a metropolitan area’s dissimilarity index to
fall) but does little to integrate African Americans
into white neighborhoods.

For policy purposes, a more appropriate index of
segregation than dissimilarity is an index that
describes the “exposure” of African Americans to the
majority white population. By this measure, segregation
is today greater than it was in 1940, and has remained
mostly unchanged since 1950. As John Logan and Brian
Stults of Brown University’s US2010 Project have shown,
in 1940, the average black lived in a neighborhood that
was 40 percent white. In 1950 it fell to 35 percent-
where it remains today. This average, of course,
aggregates data from many neighborhoods where blacks
have virtually no exposure to whites, and others where
integration is advanced. Nonetheless, by this measure
there has been no progress in reducing segregation for
the last 60 years.

Another cause of reduced dissimilarity is indeed cause
for celebration, but also has an unintended side-effect
with dire consequences: The growth of the black middle
class and the decline of housing discrimination has
permitted more middle-class African Americans to flee
the ghetto, frequently to inner-ring suburbs that are
less homogenously black than the ghetto, although
sometimes in transition from a predominantly white to a
larger black population.

But as a result, inner-city ghettos are left without a
middle class and are more homogenously poverty-stricken
and hopeless. Some 20 years ago, William Julius Wilson
observed the beginnings of this phenomenon and termed
the remaining socially isolated ghetto residents the
“truly disadvantaged.” Wilson noted that as urban
industry and the black middle class departed, the lack
of access to jobs in such neighborhoods led to greater
single parenthood (because fewer men could support
families) and left children without conventional
(middle-class) role models. A few years later, in
another now-classic work of sociology, Douglas Massey
and Nancy Denton observed that, despite urban
deindustrialization, white workers had little difficulty
following jobs to the suburbs, but blacks were barred
from doing so by the discriminatory policies of federal,
state, and local governments. As a result, only blacks
were left to deal with "falling retail demand,
increasing residential abandonment, rising crime,
spreading disorder, increasing welfare dependency,
growing family disruption, and rising educational
failure [that were] all concentrated simultaneously" in
such segregated neighborhoods.

Indeed, a recent study of school reform in Chicago
concluded that although much could be accomplished in
schools serving disadvantaged students outside
neighborhoods of such concentrated poverty, there is
little hope of improving children’s education in "truly
disadvantaged" neighborhoods.

The Chicago study, by Anthony Bryk and colleagues, found
that many schools serving disadvantaged children that
had well-developed and aligned curriculum, featured
collaboration between teachers and principals, and made
a concerted effort to involve parents and the community
made substantially greater progress than schools without
these characteristics. But Bryk and his investigators,
to their great surprise, discovered that well-designed
reform programs made little or no difference in schools
serving neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where
nearly all students moved frequently, were African
American, and had low-income parents with relatively
little formal education and a high likelihood of
unemployment. These communities had high crime rates and
inadequate community supports (such as health care and
social service providers), and few adults exemplified
the benefits of educational attainment. In communities
of concentrated disadvantage, addressing these
contextual factors was essential before school reform
could take root. The investigators concluded, "Our
findings about schooling in truly disadvantaged
communities offer a sobering antidote to a heady
political rhetoric arguing that all schools can be

And such neighborhoods have been increasing, not
decreasing, in number. Another recent study of census
data published by the Joint Center for Political and
Economic Studies finds that over 20 percent of all
African Americans now live in “high poverty”
neighborhoods, unchanged from 2000. More than 40 percent
of poor African Americans now live in high-poverty
neighborhoods, compared to 15 percent of poor whites who
live in such neighborhoods. Poor blacks are therefore
nearly three times as likely to be “truly disadvantaged”
as poor whites. (The Joint Center defines a "high
poverty" neighborhood as one where 30 percent or more of
the residents have incomes below the poverty line, but
this definition can be misleading: The poverty line is
very low, and neighborhoods with poverty rates of
greater than 30 percent also inevitably house large
numbers of residents whose incomes are barely above the
poverty line, and whom most would also consider to be
severely economically disadvantaged.)

Further reinforcing the point that a stark socioeconomic
divide exists between African Americans and whites,
Stanford University sociologists Sean Reardon and Kendra
Bischoff, also using census data, have shown that income
segregation among black families is now 60 percent
greater than among white families (i.e., low-income
black families are significantly more likely to live in
neighborhoods dominated by other low-income black
families) and has risen at a rapid rate in the last
decade. Because poor African Americans once shared the
ghetto with middle-class African Americans, income
segregation among blacks was actually less than income
segregation among whites in 1970. But it surpassed the
white rate shortly afterwards, and has climbed ever
since. Low-income black families are now much more
isolated from middle-class black families than low-
income white families are isolated from middle- and even
high-income white families.

A special caution to the hyperbole surrounding the
Manhattan Institute report, is the observation of
Reardon and Bischoff that middle-class black families
are still "much more likely to live in neighborhoods
with low-income white neighbors than are comparable
middle-class white families."

These discouraging trends partly reflect growing
economic inequality in the nation as a whole-now
compounded by the disproportionate harm suffered by
African Americans during the post-2007 economic
collapse. Partly, persistent black segregation (defined
as lack of exposure to whites and ghettoized
concentration of black poverty) stems from exclusionary
zoning laws adopted by most suburbs in the early to
mid-20th century, with the not-so-disguised purpose of
keeping those suburbs lily-white. As the Brookings
Institution’s Jonathan Rothwell recently observed,
unless a concerted effort is made to force these suburbs
to abandon such zoning and permit the construction of
low- and moderate-income housing, there is little hope
of reversing these trends.

But the reality that low-income whites are much more
integrated into the middle-class population than are
low-income blacks suggests that, declines in
dissimilarity notwithstanding, an attack on exclusionary
zoning-while necessary-will not alone be sufficient to
desegregate the nation. Race-conscious policy remains
necessary to undo the effects of racial residential
rules established over the course of a century.
Promoting the “end” of segregation, as the Manhattan
Institute has done, can only undermine the political
will that must be mobilized to embark on this course.