The 9 Most Segregated Cities In America

The 9 Most Segregated Cities In America

Racial segregation in U.S. neighborhoods has declined over the past several decades but it remains very high. Meanwhile, residential segregation by income has risen sharply from the relatively low levels in the 1970s. Large metropolitan areas are among the nation’s most segregated regions, and while none are meaningfully integrated, some are divided far more along racial lines than others.

To identify the most segregated neighborhoods in America, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index based on the share of a metro area’s population living in racially homogeneous zip codes — areas where more than 80% of the population is of a single race or ethnicity. In metro areas with complete integration, every zip code has the same racial/ethnic distribution as the area’s whole population. In areas with the worst segregation, no one lives in a zip code with anyone of a different race/ethnicity.

We reviewed only metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents. Of those, since racial segregation is only possible in areas with people of various ethnicity, only 29 sufficiently diverse metropolitan areas were considered. Based on our index, more than a third of residents in nine U.S. metro areas live in homogeneous zip codes, segregated from other racial groups.

According to Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), segregation is no accident. Federal housing policies starting in the 1930s are largely to blame for ongoing racial segregation and its economic effects. For example, in the last 60 years, black families were intentionally excluded from affordable housing options across the nation’s growing suburban neighborhoods. As a result, the predominantly black zip codes in America’s most segregated metro areas tend to be located near the city centers, while the predominantly white zip codes are more often found outside the city, in the suburbs.

For black area residents, less than 40% of housing units in five of the nine segregated cities were owned by their occupants. In contrast, homeownership rates among whites exceeded 70% in all but one of the nine cities.

Since wealth largely comes from housing investments, and home values have increased dramatically over the decades in many areas, those policies have exacerbated income and wealth disparities, Rothstein explained. Black Americans earn about 60% of what white Americans do, and accumulated wealth among typical black households is a mere 6% of the typical white household.

Those federal segregation policies, and the resulting economic fallout for black Americans, have contributed to lower educational attainment rates in segregated schools. Commenting on the effects of racial segregation in the school system, Rothstein said, “When you concentrate children with disadvantages in the same classrooms, the whole of instruction becomes remedial and below grade level.”

Racial and socioeconomic segregation are closely linked, especially in large U.S. metropolitan areas. The predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods in all but one of the nine most segregated metro areas have significantly lower educational attainment rates than those of white neighborhoods and the national rates. Segregation along racial lines is also associated with income segregation. The difference between black and white median household incomes exceeded the national gap of $22,681 in all but three of the 29 metro areas reviewed.

Segregation is in many ways a black/white phenomenon, although Hispanics and Latinos also frequently live in segregated neighborhoods. The Boston metro area is the only region considered where segregation impacted the Hispanic population more than blacks. Rothstein said, “For African Americans, it was the product of explicit public policy to segregate them from the rest of society. For Hispanics, it’s the result of traditional patterns of ethnic immigration.”

For Rothstein, racial and socioeconomic segregation must be undone in the same way it was implemented — by a federal desegregation policy. While federal policies make up the bulk of the explanation, the reasons for segregation persisting today are perhaps more complicated. In a recent report from researchers at Stanford University, “Neighborhood Income Composition by Household Race and Income, 1990-2009,” the authors observe that “Other factors, such as differences in household structure, lingering racial discrimination in the housing market, the location of affordable and subsidized housing, and residential preferences, likely also play a role.

These are America’s most segregated cities, according to 24/7 Wall St.

9. Kansas City, MO-KS
24/7 Wall St.

> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 37.8%
> Black poverty rate: 26.4%
> White poverty rate: 8.3%
> Black unemployment rate: 13.4%
> White unemployment rate: 5.6%

Roughly 765,000 Kansas City residents — or 37.8% of the city’s population — live in a homogeneous zip code, or where at least 80% of residents share the same skin color or ethnicity, the ninth highest proportion in the country. Out of the 166 zip codes that make up the Kansas City metro area, 123 are home to predominantly white residents. White city residents have very little interaction with the city’s black residents. Of all the people a white person comes into contact with in the area, only 5.5% are black, significantly less frequent than the similar figure of 12.8% of contacts across the 50 largest metro areas.

Segregation like this can have very discernible consequences. White households earn nearly twice the median income of black households. Three of the area’s zip codes are home to 15.9% of the metro’s black population, and the median household income in each is less than $30,000 annually. More than 26% of the metro area’s black population lives in poverty, slightly less than the national poverty rate among black Americans but more than three times as high as the poverty rate among the city’s white residents of 8.3%. School systems are also affected by segregation. While one-third of all metro area residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, in zip codes that are home to predominantly black residents, less than 12% of adults have a college degree.

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8. Birmingham-Hoover, AL
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> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 39.8%
> Black poverty rate: 26.9%
> White poverty rate: 10.4%
> Black unemployment rate: 8.3%
> White unemployment rate: 5.7%

Birmingham was perhaps the most extreme example of segregation in the 1960s, but it has come a long way from its days of racially segregated restrooms and lunch counters. Nevertheless, the metro area is still among the most segregated areas in the country, with roughly 40% of its population living in areas with nearly uniform racial composition. While more than half of the zip codes in Birmingham are all but racially homogeneous, black and white area residents may be even more segregated within these neighborhoods. On average, 70% of people a white person interacts with are also white, while 60% of people a black person comes in contact with are also black.

Nationally, more than 13% of black Americans are unemployed, but in Birmingham 8.3% are. While this is one of the lowest jobless rates among black workers in the country, it is still higher than the unemployment rate of 5.7% among white residents. Despite the strong labor market, there is still a wide disparity in income. Black households had a median income of $33,203, while median income for white households was more than $56,000.

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7. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
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> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 40.4%
> Black poverty rate: 21.5%
> White poverty rate: 6.8%
> Black unemployment rate: 9.2%
> White unemployment rate: 5.9%

Racial and socioeconomic segregation are often one and the same. As is the case across the nation, black and Hispanic families in the Boston area tend to live in higher poverty neighborhoods and earn lower incomes than their white peers. The median household incomes in all but one of the 145 predominantly white zip codes in the Boston area exceed the national median household income of $53,046. White households earn $79,730 annually, while a typical Hispanic household earns less than half that income, at $39,810 annually — the largest gap between whites and Hispanics among metros reviewed.

The two non-white zip codes — both located in the Lawrence area — are home to less than 1% of area residents, but nearly 10% of all Hispanics and Latinos living in the area. A typical household living in each of these zip codes earns $18,261 and $31,214, respectively. Similarly, while 6.8% of white metro area residents live in poverty, 26.1% of Hispanic residents do. A growing body of research suggests that residential racial segregation promotes poverty, which in turn results in worse educational outcomes. These two zip codes also have far lower educational attainment rates than national rates, an even bigger disparity compared to white residents’ education levels.

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6. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN
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> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 45.0%
> Black poverty rate: 25.2%
> White poverty rate: 10.5%
> Black unemployment rate: 11.1%
> White unemployment rate: 4.7%

The gap between white and black median household incomes in the Nashville area is $21,034, making Nashville one of only three metro areas reviewed with a lower gap than the national one.

However, while the white unemployment rate of 4.7% was well below the national jobless rate, 11.1% of black area workers were unemployed. And while just over one in 10 white residents lived in poverty, more than one in four black residents did.

Also, like in nearly every other U.S. metro area, the poorest zip code in the Nashville area is predominantly black. The 37208 zip code is located near downtown Nashville, while the predominantly white neighborhoods are largely located outside the city proper. As is the case in most of the country, residential segregation in the Nashville area is largely due to federal home-financing policies in the 1950s that were unavailable to black residents. As Rothstein explained, the intentional segregation of these neighborhoods also contributed to income and wealth disparities.

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5. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN
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> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 48.6%
> Black poverty rate: 33.5%
> White poverty rate: 10.3%
> Black unemployment rate: 10.2%
> White unemployment rate: 6.1%

The racial divide in Cincinnati is one of the greatest in the country. While 10.3% of white area residents live in poverty, more than 30% of Hispanic residents and more than 33% of black residents live below the poverty line, both among the highest rates in the country. Homeownership rates among black Americans in Cincinnati are similarly low, as just 34.1% of black households are owned by the people living in them. Among whites, the rate is nearly 74%.

According to 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis, more than 48% of Cincinnati residents live in zip codes where the vast majority of residents have the same skin color or ethnicity, the fifth highest rate in the country. However, this does not fully capture segregation in the area. Some racial groups also tend to cluster with each other, often along income lines. Asians and whites tend to cluster together, just as blacks and Hispanics also tend to live in the same neighborhoods. In the Cincinnati area, 74.1% of residents lived in a zip code where one of these two combined groups made up at least 80% of the population. This higher level of segregation among the combined groups was most pronounced among whites and Asians — 90% of the combined group lived with each other.

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4. Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN
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> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 51.1%
> Black poverty rate: 31.1%
> White poverty rate: 11.0%
> Black unemployment rate: 13.2%
> White unemployment rate: 6.4%

The Louisville metro area may be in a unique position to reverse the impacts of segregation in the future. The majority of the area is located in Jefferson County, which is represented by a single school district. Since the 1970s, Louisville’s busing plan helped diversify the student body in many schools. While schools may be more diverse, residents still live in sharply divided neighborhoods. Two zip codes in the center of the city are home to 2.7% of the area’s population, but nearly 20% of the city’s black population live there. And 61.7% of the area’s white residents live in homogeneous zip codes.

Residential segregation can have an enormous impact on social and economic factors. In both of the primarily black zip codes in Louisville, less than 10% of adult residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, well below the 26.3% of all metro area adults with such a degree. Additionally, the median income of black households of just $30,000 is well below the median income of white households of more than $54,000.

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3. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
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> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 51.4%
> Black poverty rate: 38.4%
> White poverty rate: 7.6%
> Black unemployment rate: 16.3%
> White unemployment rate: 5.9%

While Milwaukee did not at first attract black Americans from the South during the Great Migration, many began moving to the city in the 1960s just as manufacturing jobs began disappearing.

According to the New Republic, “This left almost no time for the city to develop a black middle class or a leadership elite.” Perhaps as a result, more than half of the city’s population lives in a zip code where at least 80% of residents share the same skin color. Of the area’s roughly 80 zip codes, three are home to nearly 25% of the city’s black population. The median household income in two of these zip codes is just $22,000. By contrast, a typical white household earns $62,697.

Milwaukee’s segregation issues go well beyond housing patterns. On average, three-quarters of all people that a white person sees on the street in the Milwaukee metro area are white, and 60% of people a black person sees are black, both indicating among the highest levels of isolation from other racial groups of metro areas reviewed.

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2. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
24/7 Wall St.

> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 51.9%
> Black poverty rate: 33.3%
> White poverty rate: 10.6%
> Black unemployment rate: 15.1%
> White unemployment rate: 7.6%

With 51.9% of Detroit residents living in zip codes where the vast majority of residents share the same skin color or ethnicity, the area is the second most segregated metropolitan area in the country. This figure alone does not convey the severity of segregation in Detroit. In 18 of the area’s zip codes, more than 80% of residents are black, and those zip codes are home to more than half of the area’s black population. Additionally, the 106 zip codes dominated by white residents are home to nearly 60% of the metro area’s white population.

Poor socioeconomic measures are often associated with severe segregation. A typical black household earns just $30,935 annually, more than $4,000 lower than the comparable national figure and nearly $30,000 below white households median income of $59,307. And while Detroit’s unemployment rate has come a long way from its high of 17.2% in June 2009, more than 15% of black residents were unemployed in 2013, double the white unemployment rate of 7.6%.

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1. Cleveland-Elyria, OH
24/7 Wall St.

> Pct. of population living in segregated areas: 55.1%
> Black poverty rate: 33.6%
> White poverty rate: 9.3%
> Black unemployment rate: 20.2%
> White unemployment rate: 5.4%

With more than 55% of its population living in homogeneous zip codes, the Cleveland metro area is the most segregated urban area in the country. Of the roughly 100 zip codes in the area, 63 are predominantly white and are home to nearly 70% of Cleveland’s white population. The metro area’s black population is similarly segregated, with 30.9% concentrated in just six zip codes.

Segregation by income is also a problem in Cleveland. In February, the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto ranked the Cleveland metro area number one in income segregation among large metro areas. Median household income in just one of the primarily black zip codes in the area is greater than $24,000. By contrast, median income among white households in the area is nearly $57,000. Low incomes may be the result of a sluggish labor market. In 2013, 20.2% of black Cleveland residents were unemployed, the highest rate among large metro areas and nearly four times the white unemployment rate of 5.4%.

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