Rising income segregation in the United States

Sociologist Stephen Klineberg discusses income segregation and a new Pew Report that suggests it is growing in the United States:

So what’s happening – as the gap between rich and poor increases, people increasingly live in very separate worlds and we’ve always sort of been more comfortable in communities made up of what the Wall Street Journal once called PLUs, people like us. Right? We never liked it too much. There were a lot of people much poorer than us or much richer than us. We’d like to be in those communities where we felt at home and with people like ourselves and you see it in Houston, I think, more than most other cities because Houston is still, today, the most spread out, least dense major city in the country…

The great danger for the future of America is not an ethnic divide. It’s a class divide…

Oh, tremendous consequences of the isolation of the poor in places where there are only other poor people with very few connections to the job opportunities that are out there, to the knowledge. We know that there are several forms of capital. Right? There’s human capital, which is education. There’s financial capital and there’s, above all, social capital. Who do you know? Who are you connected with? Who can you go to for advice? Who will know about jobs that are opening and help connect you to those jobs?

And so the isolation of the poor creates two things. Number one is it isolates the poor in ways that make it much more difficult for them to work their way out of poverty and it isolates the rich so that they live in worlds where they have no clue as to the kind of challenges that people are facing.

This is not a new issue. However, several decades ago, the focus was more on the extremely poor/the hypersegregated living in inner cities, and now the problem is perceived to be affecting more people.

The Pew report can be found here and here are some of the findings:

The analysis finds that 28% of lower-income households in 2010 were located in a majority lower-income census tract, up from 23% in 1980, and that 18% of upper- income households were located in a majority upper-income census tract, up from 9% in 1980.

These increases are related to the long-term rise in income inequality, which has led to a shrinkage in the share of neighborhoods across the United States that are predominantly middle class or mixed income—to 76% in 2010, down from 85% in 1980—and a rise in the shares that are majority lower income (18% in 2010, up from 12% in 1980) and majority upper income (6% in 2010, up from 3% in 1980)…

By adding together the share of lower-income households living in a majority lower-income tract and the share of upper-income households living in a majority upper-income tract, this Pew Research analysis has developed a single Residential Income Segregation Index (RISI) score for each of the nation’s top 30 metropolitan areas…

Among the nation’s 10 largest metro areas, Houston (61) and Dallas (60) have the highest RISI scores, followed closely by New York (57). At the other end of the scale, Boston (36), Chicago (41) and Atlanta (41) have the lowest RISI scores among the nation’s 10 largest metro areas.

Worth paying attention in the years ahead. Even in the era of Facebook, Twitter, and more weak ties, neighbors and neighborhoods still matter for a number of important life outcomes.

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