The U.S. Cities Where the Poor Are Most Segregated From Everyone Else
This is the second post in a five-part series on economic segregation in U.S. metros.
Poverty in America is an enormous problem. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15 percent of Americans, or 46.5 million people, lived below the poverty line in 2012. And the poor are increasingly isolated across America. As Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff have documented, between 1970 and 2009 the proportion of poor families living in poor neighborhoods more than doubled, from 8 to 18 percent. And the trend shows no signs of abating.
This increasing concentration of poverty poses a host of problems to communities. Less advantaged communities suffer not just from a lack of economic resources but from everything from higher crime and drop-out rates to higher rates of infant mortality and chronic disease. In his classic The Truly Disadvantaged, William Julius Wilson called attention to the deleterious social effects that go along with the spatial concentration of poverty, which “include the kinds of ecological niches that the residents of these neighborhoods occupy in terms of access to jobs and job networks, availability of marriageable partners, involvement in quality schools, and exposure to conventional role models.”
But just how segregated are the poor across U.S. metros?
Today I examine the segregation of poverty across America’s metro areas. To get at this, my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Charlotta Mellander measured the distribution of poverty across the more than 70,000 Census tracts that make up America’s 350-plus U.S. metros for 2010. To calculate the segregation of poverty, she used an index of dissimilarity, developed by sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, that compares the distribution of a selected group of people with all other in that location. The more evenly distributed the poor are compared to the rest of the population, the lower the level of segregation. The dissimilarity index ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 reflects no segregation and 1 reflects complete segregation. The MPI’s Zara Matheson mapped the data.
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The map below charts the extent of the segregation of the poor across U.S. metros. Dark blue shows the places where poor households are the most segregated; light blue shows where they are very segregated; green depicts moderate levels of segregation; and yellow represents lower levels of segregation.
As the map shows, the metros where the poor are the most segregated are mostly found along the Eastern Seaboard from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states, across the Midwest and the Great Lakes region, and in parts of Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.
The table below shows the ten largest metros (those with one million or more people) where the poor experience the highest and lowest levels of segregation.
|Large Metros Where the Poor Are Most Segregated|
|Rank||Metro||Index||Rank of All Metros|
|1||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||0.478||2|
|2||Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||0.462||6|
|6||New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA||0.428||20|
|7||Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY||0.416||29|
The large metros where the poor are most segregated are in the Midwest and the Northeast. Milwaukee has the highest level, followed by Hartford, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Buffalo, Denver, Baltimore, and Memphis. Many of these are Rustbelt metros with large minority populations that have been hit hard by deindustrialization.
When medium and smaller-sized metros are taken into account, many of the places with the most concentrated poverty turn out to be college towns, where the town-gown divide seems to be very real. State College, Pennsylvania (home to Penn State), has the highest level of poverty segregation in the country; Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) is fifth; Ames, Iowa (Iowa State) is eighth and New Haven (Yale University) is tenth. Madison, Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin); Boulder, Colorado (University of Colorado); Iowa City, Iowa (University of Iowa); and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (University of Illinois), all suffer from relatively high levels of poverty segregation as well.
|Large Metros Where the Poor Are Least Segregated|
|Rank||Metro||Index||Rank of All Metros|
|49||Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL||0.319||191|
|48||San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||0.322||184|
|46||Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL||0.327||177|
|44||Salt Lake City, UT||0.334||163|
|43||Oklahoma City, OK||0.336||160|
|42||Riverside-San Berardino-Ontario, CA||0.338||159|
Conversely, the large metros where the poor are the least segregated are mainly found in the Sunbelt and the West. Four of the ten least segregated large metros in terms of poverty are located in Florida—Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville. Many of these metros have lower wage service economies, but several are centers of high tech industry and knowledge work, including San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley, as well as Portland, Oregon; Seattle, and Salt Lake City.
The metros where the poor are least segregated are all smaller metros. In fact, there are about 80 smaller and medium-sized metros where the poor are less segregated than the least-segregated large metro. Jacksonville, North Carolina, has the lowest level of poverty segregation in the country, followed by Medford, Oregon; Hinesville-Fort Stewart, Georgia; and Prescott, Arizona.
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What underlying factors impact how segregated the poor are?
To get at this, Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis between the segregation of poverty and key economic, social, and demographic characteristics of metros. As usual, I note that correlation does not equal causation and points only to associations between variables.
The poor face higher levels of segregation in larger, denser metros. The segregation of the poor is closely associated with the density (.54) and slightly less so with size of metros (.43). This may simply be because large metros have greater numbers of very rich and very poor people; density and high real estate values encourage sorting by class and income. The competition for housing is greater, prices tend to be higher; and this may leave the poor with fewer neighborhoods to choose from, leading to more concentrated poverty.
The segregation of poverty is more pronounced in more affluent metros, as the index of segregation is positively correlated with three key markers of regional development: average wages (.46), per capita incomes (.42) and economic output per capita (.34). The poor also face greater levels of segregation in more advanced, knowledge-based metros. The segregation of poverty is positively associated with the percent of adults that are college grads (.51), a commonly used indicator of human capital; the share of workers in knowledge, professional and creative jobs (.48); and the concentration of high tech industry (.47).
Almost by definition, one would think that the places where the poor are more segregated would be beset with higher levels of economic inequality. But interestingly, Mellander’s analysis finds only a modest relationship between the segregation of poverty and income inequality (with a correlation of .20). In other words, the segregation of poverty is more strongly connected to how affluent metros are on average than to the unequal distribution of incomes. How much money people have seems to matter more than how big the gap is between the rich and the poor. One possible explanation is that people in these more affluent metros have greater means to segregate themselves. Since housing prices typically track incomes, higher prices may well leave poorer residents with fewer options, reinforcing these higher levels of segregation.
In America, race clearly overlaps with poverty. But the association between race and the segregation of the poor across America’s metros is much weaker than one might assume, according to Mellander’s analysis. The segregation of poverty is positively associated with the share of the population that is African American (.12) and Asian (.22), but is not significantly associated with the share that is White or Latino. It is useful to point out that our analysis does not consider the long-held connection between race and poverty overall, but rather the connection between race and the segregation of the poor. Even though race and poverty have historically been linked in American cities, the poor are only slightly more or less segregated depending on the overall racial characteristics of metros. Here again, this may indicate that the segregation of the poor is shaped more by the housing and location choices of more affluent groups.
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Poverty is not just the absence of money. It is geographically concentrated and it brings with it a host of troubling “neighborhood effects.” The Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson notes that “the stigmatization heaped on poor neighborhoods and the grinding poverty of its residents are corrosive, leading to … ‘moral cynicism’ and alienation from key institutions, setting up a cycle of decline.” NYU’s Patrick Sharkey has similarly found that “neighborhood inequality is multigenerational, something that is passed down from parents to children in the same way that genetic background and financial wealth are transmitted across generations.”
My next post in this series turns to the segregation of the wealthy, which brings its own set of troubles.
Top Image: A vacant, boarded up house is seen in the once thriving Brush Park neighborhood with the downtown Detroit skyline behind it (REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook).