Report says segregation waning in Southern states

A recent report has found that American cities are more racially integrated now than they have been since 1910, with neighborhoods in industrial cities and the growing Sun Belt states leading the charge.

But this good news comes with a caveat for Milwaukee: While the city still reported a decline in segregation, that decline is the smallest reported by one of the 10 most segregated cities in 1970, and currently holds a dissimilarity index of 77.7, making it the most segregated major city in America.

The report, released Monday by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank, is an extensive analysis of census data of over 1,000 city neighborhoods from 1910 to 2010 performed by visiting economics professors Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Jacob Vigdor of Duke.

The analysis relied on two common segregation indexes: dissimilarity, the proportion of two groups of individuals that would have to switch neighborhoods to have perfect integration and isolation, the measure of neighborhoods where the share of a certain group’s population is greater than the city average.

Milwaukee ranks highest (excepting the neighborhood of Somerset, Penn., a small borough with a population just over 6,000) on the dissimilarity index, although it declined 12.2 points between 2000 and 2010. It also has a high isolation index of 58.6, second only to the city of Detroit (61.0).

This is not the first time Milwaukee has been identified as the most segregated city in recent years. A study done last March by William Frey, chief demographer at the Brookings Institution, in conjunction with the University of Michigan Social Science Data Analysis Network, found Milwaukee to be the most segregated metro area of 102 metro areas with populations of more than 500,000.

J. Gordon Hylton, a Marquette professor of law, said he was not entirely surprised when he read the study and analyzed the numbers.

“It seems to me that what may not have received enough attention from the Manhattan Institute or people who have commented on the matter is that (the study) just seems to document the ongoing process of racial integration in the South and Sun Belt,” Hylton said.

In contrast to Milwaukee, Dallas and Houston are the most integrated large cities, according to the dissimilarity index. Hylton said those cities’ location is notable.

“(Houston) has a long history of black and white people interacting and is notorious in rejecting control land and housing,” Hylton said. “If you change the rules in housing (for) suburbs, you may see a change in the ethnicities that inhabit the area.”

The study results come nearly 40 years after the federal government enacted fair-housing legislation and the Great Migration of blacks from the South began. Half a century ago, nearly 50 percent of the black population lived in the ghetto, but according to the study, now only 20 percent of blacks do. Research also showed that all-white neighborhoods “are effectively extinct.”

Gentrification, immigration and the rise of blacks in suburbs have helped in the decline of segregation. The study said the Hispanic population grew in almost every corner of the U.S. in the past decade. It also pointed out that the typical black person resides in a neighborhood that is 14 percent Hispanic.

Nevertheless, barriers such as zoning laws in the suburbs continue to keep certain cities from achieving adequate racial integration.

Darnell Durrah, a graduate student and president of Marquette’s Black Graduate Student Association, said his reaction is a little biased because he doesn’t fully agree with the study due to other disadvantages blacks face.

“There are more African-Americans and minorities in general who can afford homes in suburban communities,” Durrah said. “They can stay anywhere they want, but still black males have one of the highest unemployment rates and incarceration rates.”

Daniel Maguire, a Marquette professor of theology, said there was a larger number of white people in the city than minorities.

“I think it’s more interesting for you to realize at Marquette that it’s a white island in a city of many colors,” Maguire said.  “Most of my classes I do not have a single African-American, and educationally that is bad — it makes Marquette a workshop in whiteness.”