Residential Segregation by Income on the Rise Again in America

Mon., Aug. 13, 2012 9:25 AM EDT
by Torrance Stephens

Residential Segregation by Income On the Rise Again in America

The word “segregation” is used in describing changes of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement in America. Still, it continues to characterize the current living conditions of
many minorities in America, inclusive of perpetuating poverty, lack of affordable housing and racially segregated housing via ignorant stereotypes that inhibit our society from
attaining true racial equality. Historically, zoning practices were used for the purpose of segregation, as well lending practices. Now the same can be accomplished by discrimination based on income.

According to a new analysis of census tract and household income data by the Pew Research Center, residential segregation by income has increased during the past three decades across the United States and in 27 of the nation’s 30 largest major metropolitan areas. In particular, findings note that 28% of lower-income households in 2010 were located in a majority lower-income census tract, up from 23 percent in 1980, and that 18 percent of upper- income households were located in a majority upper-income census
tract, up from 9 percent in 1980.

Interesting is that the long-term rise in residential segregation by income, is still less pervasive than residential segregation by race, even though black-white segregation has been falling for several decades. These differences were also evident among the nation’s 10 most populous metropolitan areas in the patterns and degree of residential segregation by income.

For residential concentration among upper-income households, for example Houston and Dallas sit atop the chart, with 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of their upper-income households situated in a census tract in which a majority of all households are also upper income. This is in contrast with 41 percent of the lower-income households in the New York metropolitan area are situated in a majority lower-income census tract, compared with 26 percent of the lower-income households in the Atlanta area.

Determination of these observations was based on the computation of what researchers called a Residential Income Segregation Index (RISI) score. This value was computed
by adding together the share of lower-income households living in a majority lower- income tract and the share of upper-income households living in a majority upper- income tract, resulting in a RISI score for each of the nation’s top 30 metropolitan areas. The maximum possible RISI score of 200 would indicate that 100 percent of lower-income and 100 percent of upper-income households would be situated in a census tract where a majority of households were in their same income bracket. Houston (61) and Dallas (60)  have the highest RISI scores, followed closely by New York (57). At the other end of the scale, Boston (36), Chicago (41) and Atlanta (41) have the lowest RISI scores among the nation’s 10 largest metro areas.

Although historical, racial segregation has been the de facto policy of local governments and standard operating procedure for individual landowners, the lack of capital in inner city communities, segregated minority neighborhoods, and minority families unable to find affordable housing seems to be creating a new type of segregation just as dangerous.

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