Monday, July 09, 2007

Realizing Integration

I posted a very similar entry at From Poverty to Opportunity.

In July 6th's New York Times, David Brooks wrote a column that lamented the failures to integrate our society. In it, he suggests that we should give up on integration and accept that people want to live in a segregated society. It's a depressing read both for its suggestion and for the inaccuracies that Brooks uses to support it.

Brooks isn't alone in his thoughts. Many wonder why it is that we haven't integrated. They usually begin with the same premise. Since the civil rights movement guaranteed people the right to live wherever they want, they must be living apart because that is what they prefer.

This is counter to what most research shows. In actuality, people of all races express interests in living in diverse communities. People of color often express an interest to live in communities that have similar demographics to the regions they live in. Even whites, who express an interest in living in communities where they make up the majority, still indicate preferences to live in diverse neighborhoods. A recent example is the Chicago Area Study performed by professors Maria Krysan and Tyrone Foreman at the University of Illinois at Chicago that found this exact result.

Unfortunately, providing rights is not enough. In order to undo generations of segregation, we need programs that actively -- or as we say in the business, affirmatively -- further fair housing rights. In fact, the Fair Housing Act and many state human and civil rights acts have language explicitly stating that government has a duty to affirmatively further fair housing. Alas, HUD and its state equivalents frequently ignore this duty.

Meanwhile, real estate steering, linguistic profiling, and hate crimes are among many problems that continue to reinforce segregation.

The evidence shows that segregation itself perpetuates racial and ethnic inequality. This is something else Brooks fails to consider as he suggests that maybe segregation is just fine. The Chicago region is an excellent example of how patterns of racial segregation correlate almost exactly with patterns of opportunity*. In the 6-county area, 94% of African Americans and 83% of Latinos live in low-opportunity communities. This is roughly equivalent to the 86% of families in poverty that live in low-opportunity communities.

In these low-opportunity communities residents suffered from:
  • fewer jobs and transportation options
  • poorer schools
  • higher crime
  • less green space
  • more pollution and health problems
  • slower appreciation in housing values and older housing stock
  • fewer day care slots
  • reduced civic participation
As a result, the communities have stretched their fiscal capacities to the limit, making it difficult or impossible to provide additional services or incentives to equalize opportunity in the region.

Simultaneously, high-opportunity communities continue to add jobs, improve schools, expand infrastructure, and offer lower taxes. Yet, while high-opportunity communities make up 40% of the region, they have very little affordable housing -- only 4% of the housing affordable to households making 30% of the area median income. Consequently, only 9% of those in poverty live in high-opportunity communities despite the fact that they make up 29% of the total population of the region.

The geography of segregation makes it easy to provide for some while denying others. As a result, it exacerbates every problem we face in America. Giving up on the dream of integration is essentially to give up on the dream of equality and the guarantee of basic human rights we all deserve.

see Lukehart, John et al., The Segregation of Opportunites

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