The United States has a long and troubling history of race-based housing segregation. Until the Fair Housing act was passed in 1968, municipalities and private realtors were able to legally force African Americans to live in separate neighborhoods. The long-term consequences of these policies, coupled with the continuing trend of white flight, has entrenched segregation and the resulting inequalities in U.S. metropolitan areas.
There are many negative effects of ongoing segregated housing in U.S. metropolitan areas. For example, black families in America tend to have lower incomes than white families, and so largely black neighborhoods are far more likely to be highly impoverished. In the largest metropolitan areas, 25% of the black population lives in poverty, compared to 9% of whites. In some of the cities on this list, more than one-third of black residents live in poverty.
A number of studies have shown that people living in highly poor neighborhoods suffer from negative consequences that extend beyond poverty. Because of both the higher likelihood that African Americans live in poverty and because of racial segregation in cities, the concentrated poverty rate in the largest metro areas is virtually nonexistent for whites — just 1.4% of the white population lives in highly poor neighborhoods. Meanwhile, 12.4% of black residents live in such neighborhoods.
In these highly segregated cities, black residents are even more likely to live in extreme concentrated poverty. In seven of the cities on this list, more than 20% of black residents live in neighborhoods where at least 40% of the population is poor. In Detroit, the most segregated major metropolitan area in the country, 1 in 3 black residents live in highly impoverished neighborhoods.
Another serious consequence of segregation in these metropolitan areas is the effect it can have on the public school system. School funding is largely determined by property tax revenues. In metropolitan areas with low-income black neighborhoods and affluent white areas, the white schools will likely be much better funded. This means the children living in black neighborhoods face much greater obstacles for success.
Not surprisingly, the less racially integrated metropolitan areas in particular have poor educational outcomes for African Americans. In New Orleans, for example, 90.8% of white adults have a high school diploma, while the high school attainment rate for black adults is 79.6%.
To identify America’s most segregated cities, 24/7 Wall St. calculated the percentage of metropolitan area black residents who live in predominantly black census tracts — statistical subdivisions with an average of about 4,000 people. The greater the share of black metro residents living in the area’s racially homogenous neighborhoods, the greater the degree of segregation. We only considered census tracts with at least 500 residents in the 100 largest metropolitan areas. Population data are based on five-year estimates through 2015 from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. For the purpose of this story, we only considered segregation of white and black populations.
Because a certain level of racial diversity is necessary for segregation to be measured with confidence, only 74 of the 100 largest metro areas could be compared. The remaining 26 were not considered because they do not contain any predominantly black census tracts.
While racial segregation was the primary focus of our analysis, segregation by income is also an important component. Our analysis included the share of a metro area’s population living in extreme poverty — census tracts with poverty rates higher than 40%. This portion of our analysis excluded tracts with fewer than 500 residents, as well as tracts where more than 50% of the population was enrolled in either undergraduate or graduate school.
We also reviewed median household income, poverty rates, educational attainment rates, unemployment rates, and homeownership rates among black and white populations in each metro area from the ACS. All data are five-year estimates.
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