Friday, May 07, 2004

Resegregation Hysteria Overblown

In light of my suspicions about the claims of resegregation leveled recently by Bob Herbert, it's especially fortunate that I've just run across this intriguing Brookings Institution study on changes in ethnic residential patterns in the 10 largest US metropolitan areas over the last decade and half. The Brookings Institution is no bastion of firebreathing reactionaries, but a left-of-center think tank, and as such no one can glibly put forward the argument of an ideologically motivated bias to the paper in question. Indeed, the paper's authors don't let their own good news get in the way of their suggesting that it "calls out for examining how policy might foster racial and ethnic integration, and encourage positive social outcomes in an increasingly diverse society."

An analysis of the changing racial and ethnic profile of neighborhoods in America's 10 largest metropolitan areas between 1990 and 2000 reveals that:
  • The number of predominantly white neighborhoods fell by 30 percent during the 1990s. Neighborhoods with a mixed white and Hispanic or Asian population replaced predominantly white communities as the most common neighborhood type by 2000.
  • Nine of the 10 metro areas saw an increase in mixed-race neighborhoods. In Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, neighborhoods with a mix of whites and Hispanics or Asians fueled this increase. In Dallas, Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C., neighborhoods with a mix of blacks and Hispanics or Asians multiplied most rapidly.
  • Over the decade, whites and blacks became less likely, and Hispanics and Asians became more likely, to live in neighborhoods in which their group predominated. In 2000, about equal proportions of whites, blacks, and Hispanics (41–42 percent) lived in predominantly white, black, and other race communities, respectively.
  • Neighborhoods that changed from homogeneous to mixed-race were often suburban, but patterns varied widely among metro areas. In Washington, neighborhoods with a mix of blacks and Hispanics/Asians grew rapidly in once-predominantly black suburbs. In Chicago, formerly white communities in the central city and older suburbs attracted significant numbers of non-black minorities.

Of course, there's far more to America than its largest cities, so it is not entirely out of the bounds of logical possibility that the rest of America really is undergoing rapid racial resegregation even as its biggest urban centers are desegregating. Nevertheless, such an argument becomes much harder to make, as not only must those who would advance it explain the existence of any supposed bifurcation in attitudes towards racially integrated residential areas, but they must also demonstrate that the alleged resegregation is taking place with such an intensity elsewhere that it swamps the integration going on in the top metropolitan areas, which constitute a substantial fraction of America's total population.

I can see a Herbert-supporter trying to "nuance" a way out of this difficult situation by indicating that Herbert was actually going about American schools rather than places of residence, but given that most American children still attend public schools, and that which public school one attends is a function of where one lives, such an exercise simply won't fly. To be blunt, I think Herbert was pulling "facts" out of his ass when he claimed that America was rapidly returning to the pre-Brown v. Board of Education status quo, and that there is no empirical evidence to be found in support of such a contention.