Housing segregation persists in many parts of nation, study shows

05/06/04

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Neighborhood integration is necessary to reduce school segregation but Americans continue to remain separated in their neighborhoods a half century after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, a new nationwide study by the University of Florida finds.

"There is no reason to think we're going to see increasing integration in schools unless we see integration where people live," said Brian Stults, a sociology professor with UF's Center for Criminology and Law. "Unfortunately, we're still seeing very high levels of black-white segregation. It's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem: We need integration in schools to lessen prejudice, which will then reduce residential segregation, but in order to have school integration, we need residential integration."

With segregation, blacks tend to be channeled into worse neighborhoods than whites of similar socioeconomic standing, with higher crime rates, poorer schools and homes of less value, he said.

Using 1980, 1990 and 2000 U.S. census data, the study sought to determine changes in racial segregation involving blacks and whites in 255 metropolitan areas, Hispanics and whites in 210 metropolitan areas, and Asians and whites in 116 metropolitan areas. Stults, with sociologists John Logan, with the State University of New York at Albany, and Reynolds Farley, with the University of Michigan, used the most common measure of urban segregation, the dissimilarity index, to assess the extent to which two different ethnic groups are evenly distributed across a metropolitan area.

Although census figures show black-white segregation in most of the nation's metropolitan areas declined an average of 13 percent between 1980 and 2000, the decline tapered off in the '90s, a decade that was expected to usher in more mixing of neighborhoods, said Stults, whose findings appeared in the February issue of Demography.

"As it turned out, none of the positive trends that made demographers predict the '90s would be the decade of change really had much influence," he said.

These trends included an increase in the average income of blacks, resulting in a larger black middle class; increasingly positive attitudes among whites about living in integrated neighborhoods, as shown by survey results comparing the 1960s with the 1980s and '90s; and the influx of greater numbers of Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic groups into metropolitan areas, he said.

"The '90s was a pretty prosperous decade for both blacks and whites, and even though blacks still earned substantially less than whites, it was particularly surprising that we saw no (neighborhood integration) effect from the growing convergence of black and white incomes," Stults said.

The poverty rate among blacks fell by 31 percent in the 1990s, compared with 15 percent among whites, he said. The median income of black households also made just a slight increase from 57 percent of that of whites in 1980 to 58 percent in 1990, then jumped to 66 percent in 2000, he said.

"Blacks are just not as able to convert income into residential location because of strong social forces that include continuing discrimination in real estate and mortgage lending practices," he said. "They live in much poorer neighborhoods than whites and in areas with higher crime rates regardless of education, income, home ownership status or social class."

Of the 240 metropolitan areas studied, segregation between blacks and whites increased in just 15 between 1980 and 2000, significantly fewer than for either Hispanics or Asians. Hispanic segregation increased in 124 metropolitan areas and declined in 86, while Asian segregation rose in 69 metropolitan areas and fell in 47, probably because of swelling immigration, he said.

"Hispanics and Asian immigrants often settle in ethnic enclaves where there are a lot of foreign-speaking residents and a number of businesses that cater to them," he said.

The average percentage of whites in the neighborhood of the typical Hispanic resident fell from 48 percent in 1980 to 37 percent in 2000, Stults said. For Asians, these rates generally fall as later generations leave urban ethnic neighborhoods for the suburbs, Stults said. "That was the classical model for white ethnic immigrants at the turn of the century," he said. "They concentrated in the central city, which second and third generations used as a springboard for the suburbs as they assimilated into mainstream American culture."

That pattern isn't true for blacks because they typically settle much closer to downtowns, Stults said. "Often blacks move into suburban neighborhoods that are still right on the periphery of the central city, which look more like urban neighborhoods," he said. The highest levels of segregation between 1980 and 2000 occurred in the Northeast industrial centers and many of the major urban centers in the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states, Stults said. "These are areas where blacks moved in during the great black migration from the South to the North in the early 1900s at a time of legal segregation, and that segregation has persisted," he said.

The largest decline in segregation rates between whites and blacks over the 20-year period occurred in Dallas and the least in New York City. The biggest reductions took place mainly in the South and West.

"Professor Stults' research addresses one of the fundamental divisions in the nation's cities today," said Gregory Squires, chairman of the sociology department at George Washington University. "It demonstrates, once again, how powerful forces continue to nurture segregation and unequal opportunity in urban America."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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