A recent study of census data finds that persistent neighborhood-level racial segregation cannot be explained by income differences alone. The report, Separate and Unequal: The Neighborhood Gap for Blacks, Hispanics and Asians in Metropolitan America, is part of the US2010 initiative at Brown University to evaluate socioeconomic changes over time. The report aims to address two questions: first, to what extent does residential segregation stem from income differences? And second, to what extent are segregated neighborhoods unequal?
The study covers metropolitan areas and examines segregation using two indicators of different racial groups by neighborhood, isolation and contact. The neighborhood is defined as the census tract where each household lives as well as adjacent census tracts. Isolation is measured by estimating the percentage of the neighborhood population made up of the same racial group. Conversely, contact is measured by the proportion of non-Hispanic whites in the neighborhood.
The study’s findings demonstrate that segregation continues to affect the composition of neighborhoods. While black households are slightly less isolated from other racial groups now than in 1990, they tend to live in neighborhoods with a smaller proportion of white households today (39.8%) than in 1990 (41.7%). Instead, they are more likely to live in close proximity to other minority groups, Asians and Hispanics. Affluent black households are only marginally less isolated than poor black households.
Neighborhood disparities are measured using a comparison of poverty rates. The study suggests that neighborhood poverty level disparities are a key indicator of more widespread inequities such as unequal access to education, health and other important resources. According to the report, white households tend to live in neighborhoods with very low poverty levels (11%, on average) regardless of their individual household income level. Conversely, poor black households live in neighborhoods with poverty levels of 22% and, furthermore, affluent black households live in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 14%.
Across the board, black households are more likely to live in areas with a higher level of poverty than white households in every one of the fifty metropolitan areas with the largest black populations. In some communities, such as Newark (NJ), the black households are three and a half times more likely to live in area of higher poverty than whites.
On the whole, the report concludes that patterns of segregation remain entrenched across many metropolitan areas. Furthermore, attaining affluence does not reduce disparities; as minority households gain wealth, residential patterns remain virtually the same and neighborhood based inequities continue.
The study can be found on Brown University’s website at: http://www.s4.brown.edu/us2010/Data/Report/report0727.pdf