Continuing the Fight Against Segregation

A recent report by the Manhattan Institute concludes that American cities are now more integrated than they have been in a century. According to the report, all-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct, and while segregated neighborhoods racked with poverty persist, they are in decline.

Undeniably, our nation has made historic strides towards residential integration. Credit for this progress belongs to civic leaders, neighbors, and people of good will from every background throughout the nation. Their often hard-won struggles led to the enactment of a series of federal civil rights laws, including the Fair Housing Act in 1968, whose enforcement by the federal government, state and local civil rights agencies, private non-profit fair housing councils, and, increasingly, the real estate industry itself, has opened previously segregated neighborhoods.

But it is premature to declare victory and pronounce that it is time to move on. The Manhattan Institute report acknowledges that progress has been slow. Daily, we see the pervasive impact of segregation in the United States, particularly for black families with children. The 2010 Census reveals that the average black child lives in a neighborhood that is two-thirds minority. About a third of black children, and nearly 45 percent of Hispanic children, live in neighborhoods that are highly segregated -- more than 80 percent non-white.

Americans abhor segregation not just because we believe communities should be open to all, regardless of color, but because segregation causes profound societal harm. Continued racial and ethnic segregation, in addition to the legacy of past discrimination, limits opportunities for millions of Americans in education, employment and upward mobility. At a time when our nation needs to maximize the talents and contributions of all individuals throughout our communities, segregation continues to have a direct negative effect on the achievement and employment gaps among different races in America.

Continued segregation is especially harmful on school achievement and preparing young people for the future. As the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity reported in 2008, "minority students who attend diverse schools are more likely to graduate from high school, attend and graduate from college, and connect to social and labor networks that lead to higher earning potential as adults." After the United States Supreme Court in 2006 limited the power of local school districts to address segregation, housing policymakers from the community level to the federal level have a heightened obligation to eradicate segregation and discrimination.

While the Manhattan Institute report reveals gradual but important progress, we must continue building on successful policies and working in partnership with communities to end the racial and ethnic segregation that limits the opportunities and potential of individuals in our communities. In 2011, HUD brought more housing discrimination charges than in any year since 2002. And, in December, the Justice Department reached the largest residential fair lending settlement ever -- providing $335 million to more than 200,000 African American and Hispanic borrowers.

Children born this year will be 17 on the centennial of Dr. Martin Luther King's birth. The Obama administration is working today so that on Dr. King's 100th birthday, all these children, having known the benefits of integrated communities and diverse schools, will be ready for college and jobs, fully prepared to contribute to the economic and social vitality of this nation.

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