Metro areas are still racially segregated (2022)

Jenny Schuetz

Senior Fellow - Brookings Metro, Future of the Middle Class Initiative

Where families live has profound implications for their access to opportunity. Our neighborhoods are the entry points to schools, transportation, jobs, health care, parks, and other local amenities. Where we live also determines who we interact with day to day, from professional networks and classmates to casual social interactions. To allow people of all races equal access to local housing markets, the 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by landlords, mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and other housing-related intermediaries. Studies have shown that racial segregation has declined across many U.S. cities over the past 50 years, moving away from the “chocolate city, vanilla suburbs” pattern that dominated 20th century metros. However, my recent research finds that there are still stark differences in where people of different races live.[1]

Using tract-level census data for 24 large metro areas, my co-authors and I examined whether neighborhood race conforms to the traditional 20th century pattern of non-white (largely black) city centers and white suburbs. We also observed to what extent a neighborhood’s racial and economic makeup matches its surrounding neighborhoods, independent of distance to city centers. Results show substantial sorting across neighborhoods by race and income. The maps below illustrate some of these patterns for four metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. These metros differ in their underlying spatial structure – notably the share of metro jobs located in the central city versus suburbs and natural geographic features – as well as racial composition. While specific patterns vary across metro areas, and by ethnic group within metro areas, some common themes emerge.

Metro areas are still racially segregated (2)

Note: Ratio of tract poverty (race) to MSA poverty (race).

(Video) Most major metropolitan areas are more racially segregated

Metro areas are still racially segregated (3)

Note: Ratio of tract poverty (race) to MSA poverty (race).

Black families live closer to city centers – but mostly on “their” side of town

On average, neighborhoods near their city’s central business district (CBD) have larger shares of poor and black residents, and in some cities, larger shares of Hispanics. Asians tend to live farther from their CBD. But distance doesn’t tell the whole story: the maps reveal asymmetric patterns of location by race. For instance, in Atlanta neighborhoods just south of the CBD are more heavily black than neighborhoods just north of the CBD. A similar pattern exists throughout the city of Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs. In Washington D.C., the divide is east-west, with blacks dominating the eastern side of the District of Columbia as well as the adjacent suburb of Prince George’s County, Md.

Metro areas are still racially segregated (4)

Note: Ratio of tract poverty (race) to MSA poverty (race).

Geographic scale matters: How far must you walk to meet someone of another race?

The most commonly used racial segregation metric, the dissimilarity index, measures the concentration of races within small geographic areas, typically census tracts (approximately 5,000 residents). Tract-level dissimilarity indices tell us what share of how one racial group would have to move to another tract in order to achieve a uniform distribution of races across a metro area. But the maps reveal that racial concentration exists across census tracts, as well as within them: census tracts form larger clusters of racially similar areas. Two different larger scale spatial patterns are apparent. Heavily black census tracts tend to form a few very large blocs within metro areas: the southern half of Atlanta, a central chunk of Detroit, South Central Los Angeles, and the eastern half of Washington D.C. By contrast, while largely Hispanic and Asian tracts also cluster with similar tracts, they tend to form smaller clusters scattered across the metro areas. An exception is Los Angeles, where majority Hispanic tracts form a large bloc in the center/northeast of the metro.

Metro areas are still racially segregated (5)

Note: Ratio of tract poverty (race) to MSA poverty (race).

The scale of racial clustering matters because the size of relatively homogeneous clusters affects our daily experience of segregation – whether we encounter primarily people of our own race near our homes and in the activities of daily life. Blacks not only live in more segregated tracts, but concentrated black tracts are more isolated from other racial groups at a larger geographic scale.

(Video) Racial and Economic Segregation in US Metro Regions

Black, Hispanic and Asian families that “got a piece of the pie” are “movin’ on out”

Correlation analysis reveals that for all three non-white population groups, household income is a strong predictor of within-metro location (Table 1). For most of the 24 metro areas in our sample, median household income of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians is positively correlated with distance to city centers. However, in most metro areas, the income of white households is not correlated with proximity to the CBD. These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that since the legal desegregation of housing markets, black and Hispanic middle class families have moved to the suburbs, leaving their poorer neighbors in central cities. The lack of a consistent relationship between white income and within-metro location may reflect the relatively recent trend of affluent white households moving close to city centers, even as many middle-income whites continue to live in the suburbs.

Table 1: Income rises with distance to CBD for non-white families
Notes: Tract-level correlation coefficients between household income by race/ethnicity and tract distance from the CBD. All MSAs includes 24 metro areas from all Census regions.
Correlation between distance and income among:
Los Angeles0.200.300.360.33
Washington DC-0.020.530.140.22
All MSAs0.060.360.200.30

Implications for improving racial integration and economic inclusion

Nearly 50 years after the Fair Housing Act, the U.S. has not achieved racial integration.

Stark racial differences in residential location are visible to the most casual observer. Our results concur with other research concluding that differences in income alone cannot explain the degree of racial sorting in housing markets. Whether racial sorting reflects individual preferences by households of all races, or continuing institutional barriers in housing markets to non-white families, it is unlikely that existing laws will be sufficient to eliminate racial segregation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, adopted under the Obama administration, outlines a more active federal role in combating racially exclusionary practices of local governments. However, the AFFH rule is too new to judge its effectiveness – or whether the Trump administration plans to enforce it.

“Inner cities” aren’t synonymous with poverty or race. Place-based policies trying to alleviate poverty and racial disparities should reflect that.

Traditionally, U.S. urban policy has mostly consisted of channeling federal funds to large cities, with the intent of supporting economic and community development in poor neighborhoods. Programs such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), and New Markets Tax Credits are allocated mostly by community income and population size. However, not all central city residents are poor or non-white – and not all poor and minority families live in central cities. Addressing racial disparities, alleviating poverty, and supporting urban development are three distinct goals. More thoughtful targeting of federal policies might help us achieve these goals.

[1] Thanks to my co-authors Jeff Larrimore, Ellen Merry, Barbara Robles, Anna Tranfaglia and Arturo Gonzalez for their contributions to the paper on which this blog is based. The opinions and analysis expressed here are solely my own and do not indicate concurrence by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System or the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

The Avenue

Yet more evidence that housing affordability is getting worse

Jenny Schuetz



Does racial segregation still exist in the United States? ›

Despite these pervasive patterns, changes for individual areas are sometimes small. Thirty years after the civil rights era, the United States remains a residentially segregated society in which blacks and whites still often inhabit vastly different neighborhoods.

What is the most segregated city in the US 2021? ›

Detroit is the most segregated city in the U.S., according to the report, followed by Hialeah, Fla., in Miami-Dade County, and then Newark, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. Only two of the 113 cities with populations of 200,000 or more qualified as integrated—Colorado Springs, Colo., and Port St.

Which city is the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States? ›

Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality.

Is New York a segregated city? ›

New York City is also the most segregated metro region in the US.

What is the least segregated city in America? ›

Portland is the nation's least segregated large city. The murder of George Floyd by police has reignited national interest in making more progress toward racial justice. It's prompted a new round of introspection about the racism that's deeply embedded in many American policies and institutions.

Are schools still racially segregated? ›

U.S. schools remain highly segregated, government report finds A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds that public schools remain highly segregated along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

Is Milwaukee still the most segregated city? ›

The 2020 Census reconfirmed Milwaukee's status as one of the most segregated cities and metropolitan areas in the United States.

Is Chicago a segregated city? ›

Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Over the last century, an array of political and cultural forces have created clear lines of division between racial groups.

Is Boston a segregated city? ›

Upon further study, Logan has come up with some sobering observations about Greater Boston: Among the nation's big cities, Boston is in 11th place for the most extreme residential segregation between blacks and whites. The metro area ranks fifth in Asian-white segregation.

Is Chicago the most segregated city in America? ›

The divide that system created endures today, with Chicago routinely ranking among the most segregated big cities in America when measured by the dissimilarity index, a tool used by sociologists to gauge how evenly distributed demographic groups are throughout a distinct geographic area, such as a city or metro area.

What state has the most segregated schools? ›

with Black and Latino Students largely isolated from White and Asian peers. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA reported that New York State was the most segregated state in the nation for Black students. The problem persists.

Is Chicago racially diverse? ›

Citywide, Chicago's population is almost evenly divided between non-Hispanic blacks (33 percent of its population), non-Hispanic whites (32 percent) and Hispanics (29 percent). So at a macro level, Chicago is quite diverse. At a neighborhood level, it isn't.

What city has the most segregated schools? ›

The Newark area ranks first in economic segregation and second in Black-white segregation, according to the analysis of public and private schools in all 403 metropolitan areas in the United States.

When did segregation end in NYC? ›

The New York City school boycott, referred to as Freedom Day, was a large-scale boycott and protest against segregation in the New York City public school system which took place on February 3, 1964.

What is the racial makeup of NYC schools? ›

Students at New York City Public Schools

The student body at the schools served by New York City Public Schools is 14.6% White, 24.7% Black, 16.1% Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander, 41% Hispanic/Latino, 1.2% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.5% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

What's the difference between segregation and separation? ›

Separation is the purposeful creation of a barrier between incompatible substances so they can never come together. Segregation is the spacing of incompatible substances from each other within the same location.

Is Cincinnati a segregated city? ›

The Mixed Metro Project, which tracks neighborhood segregation, ranks Cincinnati as one of the 10 most segregated cities in the country. And, within this city, the West End neighborhood is historically one of the poorest and most racially isolated.

Is Philadelphia a diverse city? ›

Philadelphia is a diverse city. Its residents are 44.1 percent black, 35.8 percent white, 13.6 percent Latino and 7.2 percent Asian.

What was the last state to desegregate? ›

In September 1963, eleven African American students desegregated Charleston County's white schools, making South Carolina the last state to desegregate its public school system.

When was the last school segregated? ›

These lawsuits were combined into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954.

Does race affect education? ›

Black students are two times more likely to be suspended without education services compared to their white peers. Schools with 90% or more of students of color spend $733 less per student. Black students may experience microaggressions and censoring from peers.

Is St Louis the most segregated city? ›

Louis has been named the 10th most segregated city in the United States, according to 24/7 Wall St. Roughly 39.3% of the city's African-American families living in predominantly black neighborhoods.

What city in Wisconsin has the most African Americans? ›

Milwaukee County is home to 240,203 African Americans, comprising 69.4 percent of Wisconsin's African American population.

Is Milwaukee a diverse city? ›

A new ranking of cities in America finds Milwaukee is near the top in diversity, ranking as the sixth most diverse large city, and the 15th most diverse of 607 cities in America ranked in the report. It also beat out every other city in Wisconsin for diversity.

Is Birmingham Alabama still segregated? ›

Racial segregation has been generally declining since 1980, but Birmingham still ranks 259th using the metric.

What is the rough part of Chicago? ›

Riverdale and West Englewood are often ranked as Chicago's worst neighbourhoods. Riverdale has one of the highest crime rates in the country. Riverdale has some secure neighbourhoods, but overall, this little suburb is unsafe. It is better to avoid the streets at night if possible.

When did segregation end in Massachusetts? ›

In 1965, the Massachusetts General Court passed the Racial Imbalance Act, outlawing segregation in public schools and defining segregated schools as those with a student body comprised of more than fifty percent of a particular racial group.

Is Boston gentrified? ›

Gentrification in Boston has 'devastating' impacts on affordable housing, experts say. An aerial view of homes and apartment on a street in a Boston neighborhood.

When did redlining end in Boston? ›

The Federal Government created color-coded maps where they give out housing loans. Red sections, where mostly Black people lived, were deemed too risky to give out loans. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was created to end redlining.

Where is the Black belt in Chicago? ›

African Americans were primarily limited to an area of Chicago known as the “Black Belt,” which was located between 12th and 79th streets and Wentworth and Cottage Grove avenues. Approximately 60,000 blacks had moved from the South to Chicago during 1940-44 in search of jobs.

When did segregation stop in Chicago? ›

Formal segregation in Chicago slowly began to break down in the 1870s. The state extended the franchise to African Americans in 1870 and ended legally sanctioned school segregation in 1874.

Is Buffalo a segregated city? ›

Buffalo is one of the most segregated urban centers in the United States, and the high concentration of Black people on the East Side is what attracted a racist killer to the “City of Good Neighbors” on May 14, 2022.

What is the most segregated school district in the US? ›

The Detroit metro area has the highest levels of Non-White–White Segregation. The overall student population in Detroit is 45 percent White and 55 percent non-White (including 40 percent Black, 8 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, 0.3 percent American Indian, and 2 percent two or more races).

What is the most segregated school district in America? ›

Key findings on U.S. school segregation

Three large school districts – LAUSD, Philadelphia and New York City – all fall in the top 10 most racially segregated for white-Black, white-Hispanic, and white-Asian segregation based on average levels from 1991-2020.

Was there segregation in New Jersey? ›

A change to its constitution in 1947 outlawed overt segregation in schools, a decade before Brown v. Board of Education. In 1941, New Jersey had seventy districts with some form of formal segregation. Most of the segregation was in South Jersey, which was largely agricultural at the time.

What percentage of NYC is Black? ›

New York City Demographics

According to the most recent ACS, the racial composition of New York Citywas: White: 41.33% Black or African American: 23.82% Other race: 14.43%

Where do most black people live in Chicago? ›

Their research provided proof of the Austin community having the largest population of Blacks in the city of Chicago. This proved that the largest population of blacks are on its west side, when factoring in the Near West Side, North Lawndale, West Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, and Austin communities as well.

What's the most racially diverse country in the world? ›

This limit made Papua New Guinea (PNG) an interesting oddity; as none of its thousands of groups included more than one percent of the population, it was considered to have zero groups and thus have a perfect fractionalization score of 1.

When was segregation abolished? ›

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which legally ended the segregation that had been institutionalized by Jim Crow laws. And in 1965, the Voting Rights Act halted efforts to keep minorities from voting.

What ended segregation in public places? ›

Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked a milestone in the long struggle to extend civil, political, and legal rights and protections to African Americans, including former slaves and their descendants, and to end segregation in public and private facilities.

What was the last state to desegregate schools? ›

The last school that was desegregated was Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. This happened in 2016. The order to desegregate this school came from a federal judge, after decades of struggle.

When did segregation of schools end? ›

These lawsuits were combined into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954.

Is Mississippi still segregated? ›

Mississippi remains a rigidly segregated state 10 years after the Supreme Court decision.

Why was ending segregation so difficult? ›

Why was ending segregation so difficult? Segregation was enforced by many state and federal laws. not doing business with companies that enforce segregation.

What year could blacks vote? ›

The Fifteenth Amendment (ratified in 1870) extended voting rights to men of all races.

When did segregation end in Texas? ›

Board ended segregation, causing White Flight out of South Dallas. In 1876, Dallas officially segregated schools, which continued officially until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in Topeka, Kansas on May 17, 1954.

When did segregation end in California? ›

Even before the Mendez appeals court decision, the California state legislature acted to repeal all provisions in the education code that permitted school segregation. Governor Earl Warren signed this law in June 1947, thus ending nearly 100 years of public school segregation in the state.

When did segregation end in Florida? ›

Jim Crow Laws: Florida

Enacted 19 Jim Crow segregation laws between 1865 and 1967.

Which state ended segregation last? ›

South Carolina's decision to end its segregation policy is a milestone in the ACLU's campaign to end HIV segregation in the Deep South, through litigation, negotiation, and public education.

Was there segregation in New Jersey? ›

A change to its constitution in 1947 outlawed overt segregation in schools, a decade before Brown v. Board of Education. In 1941, New Jersey had seventy districts with some form of formal segregation. Most of the segregation was in South Jersey, which was largely agricultural at the time.

What was the first state to desegregate? ›

One hundred and fifty years ago in the aftermath of the Civil War, Iowa became the first state to desegregate public schools. The 1868 landmark case, Clark v. Board of Directors, outlawed the "separate-but-equal" doctrine that governed schools elsewhere for another 86 years.

Was desegregation a good thing? ›

“Court-ordered desegregation that led to larger improvements in school quality resulted in more beneficial educational, economic, and health outcomes in adulthood for blacks who grew up in those court-ordered desegregation districts,” Johnson concludes.

How does race impact education? ›

Black students are two times more likely to be suspended without education services compared to their white peers. Schools with 90% or more of students of color spend $733 less per student. Black students may experience microaggressions and censoring from peers.

When did racial integration start? ›

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 347 U.S. 483, on May 17, 1954. Tied to the 14th Amendment, the decision declared all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and it called for the desegregation of all schools throughout the nation.


1. The Most SEGREGATED Places in the United States
(Nick Johnson)
2. Dartmouth Professor Says Racial Diversity Increases, But Segregation Persists
3. Why Segregation Still Hurts Schools
4. How government actions, not personal choices, created segregated neighborhoods
5. How Redlining Shaped America’s Enduring Racial Segregation
(GBH News)
6. Gentrification and Residential Racial Segregation in Philadelphia

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