Special Report

25 Most Segregated Cities in America

Evan Comen

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5. Niles-Benton Harbor, MI
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 47.2% (10,779)
> Black population: 14.7% (22,829)
> Black poverty rate: 39.0% (8,892)
> White poverty rate: 11.4% (13,321)

Some 47.2% of black residents in the Niles-Benton Harbor metro area live in predominantly black neighborhoods. Niles-Benton Harbor is one of three metro areas on this list in Michigan, which has one of the most segregated public school systems in the country. According to a 2017 report from the Associated Press, 40% of black students in Michigan are in public schools where the student body is more than 90% black, the largest share of any state other than Mississippi.

Niles-Benton Harbor has one of the worst disparities in high school attainment of any city. The high school attainment rate of 92.1% in majority-white neighborhoods is roughly 20 percentage points above the 72.4% attainment rate for majority-black neighborhoods, twice the disparity in high school attainment for the nation as a whole.

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4. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 48.2% (770,128)
> Black population: 16.7% (1.6 million)
> Black poverty rate: 26.5% (423,734)
> White poverty rate: 6.8% (347,878)

Like in many Midwestern cities, government officials and property owners in Chicago used discriminatory zoning practices and racially restrictive housing covenants to exclude black residents from certain neighborhoods in the early 20th century. Property in as much as 80% of the city was bound by restrictive covenants by 1927, with African Americans mostly limited to an area known as the “Black Belt” in South Side Chicago.

Today, 48.2% of Chicago’s 1.6 million African American residents live in majority-black neighborhoods, many in the South Side. Residents of majority-black neighborhoods are more than half likely to go to college as residents of white neighborhoods, and they are more than four times as likely to be unemployed.

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3. Albany, GA
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 51.1% (41,493)
> Black population: 52.8% (81,244)
> Black poverty rate: 33.9% (27,517)
> White poverty rate: 13.0% (8,342)

Albany is one of four Georgia metro areas to rank among the most segregated cities. An estimated 51.1% of black residents live in predominantly black neighborhoods, the third largest share of any metro area nationwide and more than three times the 16.8% national rate.

In neighborhoods where more than half of the population is black, 43.8% of residents live in poverty, far more than the 29.7% national figure and the 12.3% poverty rate for majority-white neighborhoods in the metro area. Similarly, 20.6% of the labor force in predominantly black neighborhoods in Albany is unemployed, far more than the 15.5% comparable national figure and the 9.1% unemployment rate in majority-white neighborhoods in the metro area.

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2. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 52.4% (503,656)
> Black population: 22.3% (960,838)
> Black poverty rate: 29.9% (287,682)
> White poverty rate: 10.2% (292,703)

Like in many Rust Belt cities, segregation in Detroit was exacerbated after the Great Migration of the mid-20th century, as Detroit residents fought to keep new black residents seeking auto factory jobs out of their neighborhoods. As Detroit deindustrialized after WWII, large waves of wealthy white families left the city center for the suburbs, draining the city’s tax base and depriving its poorer residents of necessary public services and infrastructure. Racial tensions in Detroit culminated in major race riots in 1943 and 1967 that resulted in dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and more than 1,000 buildings burned.

Today, 52.4% of black residents in the Detroit metro area live in neighborhoods that are predominantly black — more than three times the 16.8% national black segregation rate.

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1. Pine Bluff, AR
> Black pop. in black neighborhoods: 53.9% (24,523)
> Black population: 48.6% (45,495)
> Black poverty rate: 27.7% (12,623)
> White poverty rate: 13.9% (6,172)

The site of the Pine Bluff student sit-in movement of 1963, today Pine Bluff is the most segregated metro area in the country. An estimated 53.9% of the black population of Pine Bluff lives in predominantly black neighborhoods, more than three times the 16.8% national figure.

Although segregation often exacerbates racial inequality, Pine Bluff is one of America’s poorest cities and has relatively small achievement gaps between white and black neighborhoods. While nationwide residents of majority-black neighborhoods are 3.4 times more likely to live in poverty as residents of white neighborhoods, in Pine Bluff they are only 1.9 times more likely. Additionally, Pine Bluff is one of only two metro areas in which a larger share of residents have a bachelor’s degree in black neighborhoods than white neighborhoods.