Still Unequal, Less SeparateApr 5th, 2012 | By Mike Sitkowski
Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor
In the wake of Sean F. Reardon and Kendra Bischoff’s study detailing troubling trends in income segregation in American cities, the Manhattan Institute’s Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor strike a decidedly more optimistic tone in their new report, “The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America’s Neighborhoods, 1890-2010.” The report, released in January, finds residential racial segregation in the United States at its lowest level since 1910:
As of 2010, the separation of African-Americans from individuals of other races stood at its lowest level in nearly a century. Fifty years ago, nearly half the black population lived in what might be termed a ‘ghetto’ neighborhood, with an African-American share above 80 percent. Today, that proportion has fallen to 20 percent.
Glaeser and Vigdor studied trends in racial segregation by examining Census data dating back to 1890. They find two periods of “radical transformation” in residential racial segregation: from 1910 to 1960, when segregation rose consistently due to black migration to northern cities and the public housing boom, and from 1970 to 2010,when fair housing laws, access to credit, and changing racial attitudes led to increased mobility among African Americans and rising racial integration throughout the United States.
In 1960, according to the study, over 20 percent of U.S. neighborhoods (defined by Census tracts) reported zero black residents. By 2010, that number fell to less than 0.6 percent.
Much of Glaeser and Vigdor’s study focuses on the decline in segregation from 2000 to 2010. Over this period, the authors find that segregation declined in the nation’s 85 largest metropolitan areas and in 522 of the nation’s 658 housing markets. The study also finds that cities with higher levels of segregation in 2000 experienced, on average, larger percentage declines in segregation by 2010. The authors cite the depopulation of ghettos, gentrification, an influx of Hispanic immigrants, and migration to less segregated Sun Belt cities as forces behind the trend in declining segregation.
Glaeser and Vigdor do argue that, though the progress of the last 40 years has undone the segregation caused by pre-Civil Rights era legislation and prevailing racial attitudes, it has not brought about the end of racial inequality. But they also refute the notion that residential segregation was the sole repressive force on African-American progress in the 20th century.
The decline in racial segregation from 1970 to 2010 found by Glaeser and Vigdor is particularly interesting given the recent findings by Reardon and Bischoff of dramatic increases in income segregation over the same period. Taken together, the studies seem to suggest that neighborhoods in metropolitan areas have, over the last 40 years, become less racially homogenous but more segregated by income.