Special Report

25 Most Segregated Cities in America

Evan Comen

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20. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 35.2% (91,937)
> Black population: 16.6% (261,429)
> Black poverty rate: 33.7% (88,071)
> White poverty rate: 7.3% (77,667)

Like many Rust Belt cities, Milwaukee’s current segregation patterns can be traced back to discriminatory appraisal maps drawn up by the HOLC. Neighborhoods just north of downtown Milwaukee, such as Halyard Park, Hillside, and Haymarket were deemed hazardous for investment, with assessors citing the area’s African American population as a threat to property values.

Today, 35.2% of black residents in the Milwaukee metro area live in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are black, compared to 16.8% of black Americans nationwide. Some 38.8% of residents in majority-black neighborhoods in Milwaukee live below the poverty line, nearly seven times the 5.8% poverty rate for white neighborhoods.

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19. Columbus, GA-AL
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 36.4% (45,846)
> Black population: 40.6% (126,005)
> Black poverty rate: 27.9% (35,099)
> White poverty rate: 11.2% (16,465)

Columbus is one of four metro areas in Georgia to rank among the 25 most segregated cities in America. An estimated 36.4% of black residents in the Columbus metro area live in predominantly black neighborhoods, more than twice the 16.8% national figure.

Segregation can limit education and employment opportunities for minority communities and contribute to racial disparities in urban areas. In Columbus, while 85.0% of heads of household in white neighborhoods own their homes, just 47.7% of heads of household in black neighborhoods do — one of the larger homeownership gaps nationwide. The poverty rate in black neighborhoods of 33.8% is more than four times greater than the poverty rate in white neighborhoods of 8.0%, also one of the larger gaps of any U.S. city.

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18. Flint, MI
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 37.2% (30,591)
> Black population: 20.0% (82,289)
> Black poverty rate: 36.8% (30,317)
> White poverty rate: 14.3% (42,492)

An estimated 37.2% black residents in Flint live in predominantly black neighborhoods, far more than the 16.8% national rate. Residents of predominantly black neighborhoods in Flint are nearly four times as likely to be unemployed and three times as likely to not have a college degree as residents of predominantly white neighborhoods, some of the worst employment and education gaps nationwide.

In 2014, the city of Flint switched its water source from Detroit to the Flint River in order to reduce a budget shortfall. The Environmental Protection Agency quickly confirmed the presence of dangerous levels of lead in the water, which likely led to a 400% spike in pneumonia deaths that year and a slew of other negative health outcomes. Some have used the Flint water crisis an example of environmental racism, a term coined in the 1980s that describes situations in which black Americans are disproportionately exposed to high levels of pollution.

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17. Mobile, AL
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 38.2% (55,985)
> Black population: 35.3% (146,423)
> Black poverty rate: 29.5% (43,154)
> White poverty rate: 12.0% (28,667)

Mobile is one of three metro areas in Alabama to rank among the most segregated cities in America. An estimated 38.2% of black residents in the metro area live in predominantly black census tracts, more than twice the 16.8% national figure.

Residents of poor, segregated minority neighborhoods often lack access to education and employment opportunities and face major economic disadvantages that can lead to high rates of poverty and unemployment. In Mobile, the poverty rate in majority-black neighborhoods of 36.9% is nearly three times the poverty rate of 12.8% in white neighborhoods. Similarly, the 16.0% unemployment rate in black neighborhoods in the metro area is more than three times the 5.3% unemployment rate in white neighborhoods.

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16. St. Louis, MO-IL
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 38.3% (196,619)
> Black population: 18.3% (513,403)
> Black poverty rate: 26.4% (135,708)
> White poverty rate: 7.9% (164,836)

An estimated 38.3% of black residents in the St. Louis metro area live in census tracts where more than half of residents are also black, more than twice the 16.8% national figure. Just 12.6% of adults in predominantly black neighborhoods have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 35.0% of adults in white neighborhoods. Similarly, 32.8% of residents in black neighborhoods live in poverty, more than four times the 7.8% poverty rate in white neighborhoods.

Segregation in St. Louis is largely delineated by Delmar Boulevard, an east-west thoroughfare that divides the poor, predominantly black neighborhoods in the north from the wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods in the south.