This post is about a crucial American social problem. It is not about uncivil discourse, increased immigration, political polarization, a decline in social trust, consumerism, or other regularly-discussed options. Rather, underlying many other American issues is residential segregation which occurs by race and class. Here are just some of the social spheres it affects:
- Schools. While Americans tend to see more education as a silver bullet to all social problems, the fate of schools is closely tied to their neighborhoods and communities. This is not mainly about funding. It is more about mixing kids of different socioeconomic backgrounds together. Read about the Coleman Report from 1966.
- Social networks. Even in a digitally connected, who you live near affects who you and/or your kids see on a regular basis. Live near people like you and you will interact with people like that more.
- Quality of life in the community and availability of social services. Factors like crime, public parks, health care, local amenities (libraries, park districts, civic organizations), and local programs (through local governments as well as non-profits and other civic organizations) are connected to the wealth and resources of a community.
- Access to jobs. Spatial mismatch describes situations where jobs available to lower-skilled workers are far in distance from lower-skilled workers. Live in a wealthier community and you are likely closer to better jobs.
- Access to good housing. Affordable and quality housing is difficult to find in many places in the United States but those with more resources and whose race and ethnicity are viewed more favorably have more housing opportunities.
- Building wealth. Since wealth creation is tied to homeownership and good jobs, those who have harder times accessing these two things have a harder time developing and passing along wealth. The disparities between the wealth of whites and blacks as well as Latinos are huge.
- Concentrated poverty. As wealthier communities are able to keep poorer residents out through a variety of methods (even as poverty increases in the suburbs), poorer residents can be limited to certain neighborhoods and communities which can exacerbate problems.
It is difficult to truly address a number of American social problems if this problem of residential segregation is not addressed. Read more about how this residential segregation came to be in an earlier post about the development of American suburbs.
Of course, residential segregation cannot be said to be the deepest American problem since beneath residential segregation is the uglier issue of the “American dilemma” or “America’s original sin“: racism.