Recent census data show that residential segregation is now the lowest it has been in a century for African-Americans. According to U.S. Census data, Fort Myers, Florida, Honolulu, Atlanta, and Miami were among the least segregated cities, contributing to a national trend that dropped the residential segregation index for African-Americans to its lowest point in generations.
As a result of civil rights enforcements that have prevented redlining and overt housing discrimination, and a developing social culture that celebrates the growing diversity of our nation, more black and white people now call the same neighborhood home. However, it may be a bit premature to begin pulling the “post-racial” rhetoric from the grab bag of contemporary analysis on race relations.
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The decline in black-white residential segregation is not an equal opportunity phenomenon. In fact, the U.S. Census data shows that in the Northeast, segregation remains intense. According to Dr. Steven Pitts, Labor Specialist with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, opportunities for work — or the lack thereof in the current economy — partially explain the segregation that persists in parts of the country.
“Recent movers have included not just black professionals, but blacks in blue collar or service occupations who, due to unionization or other factors, are leaving their communities in response to deteriorating inner city neighborhoods and the inability to find affordable and safe housing in the city,” said Dr. Pitts.
“These new out-migrants are less likely to be found in those cities in the Northeast and Midwest where the loss of manufacturing jobs radically reduced the number of blue collar jobs with decent incomes.”
Another factor that may temper our reaction to these current trends is the reality that while the collective “we” is more inclined to live in the same neighborhoods, there are still barriers that exist with regard to the level of social interaction that can also advance the development of an inclusive nation. The fact that people of varying racial backgrounds are choosing to share neighborhoods has not altered norms that trend toward segregated social interactions and opportunities for upward mobility.
In other words, the decline in residential segregation has not led to a decline in occupational segregation, school segregation, or racial disparities in health, incarceration, civic engagement, or other indicators of our well-being.
At least not yet.
While the decline in residential segregation is a positive step forward, it is important to recognize the long journey ahead in ridding ourselves of the implicit biases and structural barriers that prevent the realization of the inclusive democracy we know is possible.