The Neighborhood Gap: Racial and Income Segregation

indexLittle Rock    Three Stanford researchers are claiming to have discovered something new in the acknowledged huge divide between white and black families in addition to making less money and “blatant discrimination,” and that’s a so-called “neighborhood gap.” Meaning that through data crunching they found what the Times called “a striking pattern: White (and Asian-American) middle-income families tend to live in middle-income neighborhoods. Black middle-income families tend to live in distinctly lower-income ones.” Going further they argue that “A typical black child living in a household with $100,000 annual income lives in a neighborhood with a median income of $54,000. And a black child in a household making $50,000 typically lives in a neighborhood with a median income of $42,000.” The neighborhood gap means the obvious, that black families, even with higher incomes, have less access to the better schools, day care, transportation, parks, and needless to say jobs, access to healthcare, and other amenities that higher income neighborhoods attract.

I would love to really sit down and look eye-to-eye with any of these folks and ask, What’s the surprise? What’s new here? Are we trying to simply define the line more tightly between what constitutes “blatant discrimination” compared to run of the mill, everyday discrimination?

The Times concedes that discrimination plays a role, but pushes it off on historic legacies of public policies from the 20th century that included “essentially whites-only wealth creation” through federal housing policies, even while acknowledging that “subtle discrimination” continues citing a 21st century HUD study in 2013 that found that “black home shoppers were often shown fewer options than similar white shoppers.” This racial steering has been a persistent and unconquered problem for over fifty years for cry-eye! Remember block-busting! Remember whites-only advertising. Where’s the change?

Let’s also recall persistent efforts and continuing battles to economically integrate higher income housing enclaves. The Wall Street Journal recently featured a column written by someone from the Manhattan Institute with the provocative headline that President Obama was trying to integrate the Clinton’s 95% white neighborhood in Westchester County, New York, saluting the efforts of a newer Republican mayor trying to resist a court approved settlement with HUD to add 750 units of publicly subsidized housing in the county. Similar efforts in another 1200 plus communities were derided. Let’s be clear we are talking about a HUD federal policy to in fact place lower income families in communities with higher incomes and stop income and racial discrimination. This is not a new policy, but it certainly is an ongoing battle to maintain whatever you want to call it, a “neighborhood gap,” segregated communities, or what have you.

The increasing number of rental units and the percentage of families renting, partially trapped by the impact of the Great Recession, means that greater numbers of families, especially non-white families, are stuck in their neighborhoods, and these are going to be neighborhoods that technically have lower incomes, but given new and more conservative lending standards are going to wall in more moderate income families wherever they are.

The difference between so-called “choice” and “blatant” versus systemic discrimination is impossible to parse, but the clear fact that federal policy to create change is still being resisted tooth-and-nail doesn’t escape peoples’ information when they look for a home. Neither does the fact that federal policy, along with state and local policies, to make a difference here are tragically wanting, is going to continue to make such gaps enduring unless there are many more fundamental and sweeping changes.

Brother Ali – Work Everyday