Segregation In America: ‘Dragging On And On’

Racial segregation in the U.S. housing market has ebbed since its peak, around 1960. But it can be hard to find a truly integrated American neighborhood, according to demographer John Logan of Brown University, who has been has been parsing the latest census data.

“Black-white segregation is a phenomenon that is dragging on and on,” Logan tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

And instead of gaining momentum, the rate of integration seems to be slowing down, in Logan’s view. Asked about the reason for that slowdown, Logan said that he sees one important factor.

There is, he says, “a significant part of the white population that is unwilling to live in neighborhoods where minorities are 40, 50, 60 percent of the population. That is, [they’re] uncomfortable with being a minority in their neighborhood.”

The result is a continuation of the “white flight” that made headlines in the 1960s and ’70s.

Whites And Integrated Neighborhoods

But there’s also a modern countertrend to the unwillingness of some whites to be minorities, Logan says.

“There is another substantial share of the white population that is perfectly willing to live in diverse neighborhoods,” he says, “although the proviso seems to be, not in a white-black neighborhood — but in a neighborhood that has already been integrated with the arrival of Asians and Hispanics, and people get a comfort level about diversity.

“And then when African-Americans join the mix, [it] seems to be easier to be accepted.”

But overall, Logan says, “There is not much pioneering by whites into minority neighborhoods, at all.”

“I want to challenge you on that,” Inskeep says, “because I think I live in a neighborhood that could be described this way. It’s happened over a period of decades; it’s in central Washington, D.C.; it was a historic black neighborhood — and white people have moved in in substantial numbers over time.”

“It can happen,” Logan says, “and it might even happen that this is an area that can remain racially integrated over a long time.

“However, I do research that looks at thousands of neighborhoods, across dozens of cities,” he says. “And between 1980 and 2000, I found out of say, a total of 5,000 census tracts in the country, only a handful — 20 or 30 — that were predominantly minority, and in which whites established a significant presence.”

Beyond Black And White

Recent census data confirm that Hispanics and Asians represent two fast-growing sections of the U.S. population, particularly in metropolitan areas. And they often join or establish what Logan calls “ethnic neighborhoods.”

“Hispanics now, on average, live in neighborhoods that are more than 50 percent Hispanic,” Logan says.

It’s possible that the growing diversity of the U.S. population — and the choices that immigrants make about where they want to live — may be partly responsible for the slowing rate of desegregation in America.

“When we measure the level of segregation of Hispanics and Asians, there’s really been no change since 1980,” Logan says. “So, the continuing immigration is feeding into ethnic neighborhoods.”

Even so, that level of consistency means that as more recent arrivals move into those Asian and Hispanic neighborhoods, others are moving out of them, Logan says.

Looking To The Future

Asked about the future of integration in America — and how the next generation will be living, 20 or 30 years from now — Logan says that he doesn’t think very much will change during that period. He says that the slow rate of change requires taking a longer view.

“If we take the current rate of change and extend it over 50 years, blacks then would be as segregated as Hispanics are today,” he says.

“And Hispanics are not exactly fully integrated into the society. That’s 50 years from now — that’s my grandchildren’s lifetime we’re talking about. And that seems very, very slow.”