Interpreting Segregation

The Poverty & Race Research Action Council has received a number of inquiries on the widely publicized report from the Manhattan Institute, “The End of the Segregated Century,” that looks at declining levels of racial segregation in American cities and metro areas over the last century.  

Putting aside methodological concerns, the data reported in the study is not new or surprising to those of us who work in cities. Yes, all-white city neighborhoods are increasing rare, as are monolithic African American neighborhoods, and middle class families of color have far more choices that they did 40 years ago, in spite of continuing housing market discrimination. These are positive developments.  But it does not mean that segregation has gone away—in fact in some disturbing ways it has intensified, particularly when one examines the confluence of racial and economic segregation.  For a more detailed look, we recommend the excellent commentary by Rolf Pendall of the Urban Institute, “Racial Segregation: It's Not History.” Pendall, citing research funded by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and PRRAC, concludes that “we've scarcely begun a serious fight against the concentrated poverty that remains the most toxic legacy of American apartheid.”

Also worth reading is the Urban Institute's “report card“ on black-white and Latino-white opportunity gaps in the 100 biggest metros nationwide, which reveals the human consequences of geographic segregation from opportunity. We should definitely celebrate progress when we see it, but it is important to recognize that addressing the continuing effects of metropolitan segregation and concentrated poverty is a long term struggle that won't be achieved by wishful interpretations of census data.

We also recommend this excellent commentary from Richard Rothstein which underscores many of the methodological problems with the study. The Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance also weighed in with a thoughtful commentary, criticizing the study's attempts to redefine segregation. And our own board member Sheryll Cashin debated one of the report's author's last week on NPR's “Talk of the Nation”—click here to listen!    For more detail on your metro area, we also recommend the interactive maps of metropolitan segregation put out recently by ReMapping Debate.

Editor's note: This post originally was originally published by PRRAC. For additional reading, see Tegeler's spring 2011 article in Shelterforce on assessing neighborhood affordability based on the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transportation Index. Then read CNT's Scott Bernstein's counterpoint.

Philip Tegeler is the executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council.


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