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The End of the Segregated City?

Report from the Manhattan Institute says the all-White neighborhood is effectively extinct
  • February 06 2012

Segregation of African-Americans in the largest cities is on the decline and at its lowest point in more than a century, according to a report from the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank.

The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America’s Neighborhoods, 1890-2010, written by Manhattan Institute fellows Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor, and Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics at Duke, looks at what the authors call “the pervasive decline in segregation that occurred during the first decade of the twenty-first century.” According to the report, urban racial segregation is lower than it has been since 1910, prior to the mid-century migration of African Americans to cities.

The report is based on the authors’ analysis of data from 13 U.S. censuses from 1890 through 2010.

The authors note two transformations in residential segregation in the U.S. over the past century. Between 1910 and 1960 massive ghettos emerged in almost every major city as African American migration was met with White hostility. Since 1970, segregation has declined steadily and this integration has entirely erased the 1910 to 1960 rise. In 2010, they note, the segregation level in all but one of the 658 housing markets tracked by the Census Bureau was lower than the average level of segregation in 1970, and “segregation declined in 522 out of 658 housing markets overall between 2000 and 2010.”

As a result of this shift, all-White neighborhoods are effectively extinct. In 1960, one fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero Black residents, the report notes.  “Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little Black population.”

The study also finds that gentrification and immigration have made a dent in segregation. While these phenomena are clearly important in some areas, the rise of Black suburbanization explains much more of the decline in segregation. In addition, while ghetto neighborhoods persist, but most are in decline. For every diversifying ghetto neighborhood, many more house a dwindling population of Black residents.

According to Glaeser and Vigdor, the decline in segregation carries with it several lessons relevant to public policy debates:

  • The end of segregation has not caused the end of racial inequality. Only a few decades ago, conventional wisdom held that segregation was the driving force behind socioeconomic inequality. The persistence of inequality, even as segregation has receded, suggests that inequality is a far more complex phenomenon.
  • Access to credit has fostered mobility. At a time when proposed regulations threaten to eliminate the market for lending to marginal borrowers, it is important to recognize that there are costs and benefits associated with tightening credit standards.
  • The freedom to choose one’s location has helped reduce segregation. Segregation has declined in part because African Americans left older, more segregated cities and moved to less segregated Sun Belt cities and suburbs. This process occurred despite some public attempts to keep people in these older areas.


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