February 1, 2012
One Serious Problem Gone
Over the past few days, the press reported a welcomed reminder of how America has been transforming itself over recent decades. Not in the depressing trajectory that is often the subject of the blather of 24/7 news outlets and their self-proclaimed “pundits.” Rather, by virtue of some startling data that has been reported, it appears that one of the goals of the civil rights community for half century is near attainment—-the desegregation of housing in America’s major cities.
It wasn’t all that long ago that “Fair Housing Councils” proliferated across the country to give voice to the goal of eliminating, or at least reducing, the isolation of minorities in cities and towns. Today, the Councils and others can take pride in the fact that the residential racial isolation that marked so much of the twentieth century in the United States is at the lowest level in nearly a century.
Two researchers at the Manhattan Institute, Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor, analyzed the data from the last thirteen censuses (going back over 100 years) and discovered some astounding trends. Namely:
In a short but fascinating study, Glaeser and Vigdor point out what a complex process the desegregation of American cities has been. It isn’t attributable just to the suburbanization of blacks or the immigration of Latinos or the gentrification of inner city neighborhoods or the ending of malevolent government policies (e.g. the denial of mortgage credit to residents in mixed race neighborhoods or the enforcement of restrictive covenants) or the removal of enormous public housing projects that concentrated poor and minority residents (e.g. Pruitt-Igoe). It is all these and more and the change is enormous.
According to one of the indices used in the study,Los Angeles has become the least racially isolated large city in America
with an “isolation index” of 22—compared to New York’s 42.4 and Chicago’s 57.5. This index measures the tendency for residents of one group to live in neighborhoods where their share of the population is above the citywide average (the lower the number the less isolated the residents).
The authors remind their readers that in the 1960’s there were those who argued that curing housing segregation would be the key to transforming America; “once the races mixed more readily, all would be well.” It turns out, of course, that there are no silver bullets. Housing segregation is only one part of a very complex and inter-connected series of problems.
There are those who will attempt to find fault with the study to avoid even the hint of good news on the inter-group front. There will also be those who will suggest that few problems remain if we are living side by side. In fact, leave it to John McWhorter in an essay in The Root for a sober analysis of the report’s implications:
The Glaeser/Vigdor study is indeed welcome news—-while one problem has dramatically receded, it is clear that other profound challenges remain.