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The Racial Opportunity Gap

Urban Institute rates top 100 metro areas for Black, White, Hispanic equity
  • March 04 2012

Despite the achievements of the civil rights era, there are still inequities between African Americans and Hispanics and Whites. The Urban Institute, a non-partisan social policy and economic research group in Washington, DC, has issued a report card on racial and ethnic equity in the top 100 American urban markets. The results are surprising.

The report card scores metros on five factors: residential segregation, neighborhood affluence (for the average Black, Latino, and non-Hispanic White), public school quality (for the average Black, Latino, and non-Hispanic White student), employment (among working-age adults), and homeownership. The analysis is based on data from the 2010 Census and Brown University's USA2010 project

The 10 best metro areas for Black-White equity were mostly medium-sized metro areas in the South and West:

1. Albuquerque, NM
2. El Paso, TX
3. Lakeland–Winter Haven, FL
4. Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville, FL
5. Oxnard–Thousand Oaks–Ventura, CA
6. Santa Rosa–Petaluma, CA
7. Tucson, AZ
8. Modesto, CA
9. Honolulu, HI
10. Greenville–Mauldin–Easley, SC


The bottom 10, meanwhile, were large metro areas in the Midwest and Northeast:

91. Philadelphia–Camden–Wilmington, PA–NJ–DE–MD
92. Rochester, NY
93. Albany–Schenectady–Troy, NY
94. Toledo, OH
95. Bridgeport–Stamford–Norwalk, CT
96. New York–Northern New Jersey–Long Island, NY–NJ–PA
97. Syracuse, NY
98. Buffalo–Niagara Falls, NY
99. Chicago–Naperville-Joliet, IL–IN–WI
100. Milwaukee–Waukesha–West Allis, WI


In an analysis of the results, Margery Austin Turner, the Urban Institute's VP for research, writes that while she thought outcomes for African Americans might be better in large, prosperous metro areas like New York, Boston and Chicago, even though Black-White gaps may be larger, that wasn’t true. “African Americans in Charleston, SC, and Oklahoma City are more likely to be employed, own their homes, live in prosperous neighborhoods, and attend high-performing schools than their counterparts in Milwaukee or Boston,” she notes

In terms of Latino-White equity, the 10 best metros were:

1. Palm Bay–Melbourne–Titusville, FL
2. Pittsburgh, PA
3. Portland–South Portland–Biddeford, ME
4. Jacksonville, FL
5. Dayton, OH
6. St. Louis, MO–IL
7. McAllen–Edinburg–Mission, TX
8. Lakeland–Winter Haven, FL
9. El Paso, TX
10. Akron, OH


The 10 worst were:

91. New Haven–Milford, CT
92. Syracuse, NY
93. Philadelphia–Camden–Wilmington, PA–NJ–DE–MD
94. Boston–Cambridge–Quincy, MA–NH
95. Worcester, MA
96. Bridgeport–Stamford–Norwalk, CT
97. New York–Northern New Jersey–Long Island, NY–NJ–PA
98. Providence–New Bedford–Fall River, RI–MA
99. Hartford–West Hartford–East Hartford, CT
100. Springfield, MA


“The overall picture looks pretty similar,” says Turner. “And indeed, many metros either score well for both African Americans and Latinos (like Palm Bay, FL, Colorado Springs, and Raleigh, NC) or score poorly for both (like New York, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). But a few metros—like San Jose, CA—stand out for scoring high on equity for their (small) African American population but low for their (much larger) Latino population. And the reverse is true in metros like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, which perform poorly for African Americans but quite well for Latinos.”


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