Some evidence whites are moving into black urban neighborhoods

In the United States, whites do not typically move into black neighborhoods but there is some evidence this may be changing:

In America, racial diversity has much more often come to white neighborhoods. Between 1980 and 2000, more than 98 percent of census tracts that grew more diverse did so in that way, as Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American families settled in neighborhoods that were once predominantly white.

But since 2000, according to an analysis of demographic and housing data, the arrival of white residents is now changing nonwhite communities in cities of all sizes, affecting about one in six predominantly African-American census tracts. The pattern, though still modest in scope, is playing out with remarkable consistency across the country — in ways that jolt the mortgage market, the architecture, the value of land itself.

In city after city, a map of racial change shows predominantly minority neighborhoods near downtown growing whiter, while suburban neighborhoods that were once largely white are experiencing an increased share of black, Hispanic and Asian-American residents…

At the start of the 21st century, these neighborhoods were relatively poor, and 80 percent of them were majority African-American. But as revived downtowns attract wealthier residents closer to the center city, recent white home buyers are arriving in these neighborhoods with incomes that are on average twice as high as that of their existing neighbors, and two-thirds higher than existing homeowners. And they are getting a majority of the mortgages.

The examples provided are intriguing to consider but the summary data is hard to come by in this article. A few thoughts:

  1. How many whites are actually moving into what are black neighborhoods? Are these significant shifts or relatively few new residents?
  2. The suggestion is that many census tracts are affected – “about one in six predominantly African-American census tracts.” If the amount of change is not much, this may not mean a whole lot. For both #1 and #2, the article said the changes are “still modest in scope.”
  3. Do the affected census tracts have relatively low densities or populations that have decreased over the years? In other words, are these areas with depressed land values or are they wealthier minority neighborhoods whites are entering? If it is the first, could this be a side effect of the inflated housing values in many metropolitan areas?
  4. The focus of this article is also on mortgages and gentrification: the arriving white residents are more likely to receive loans and they have higher incomes. This hints at longer-standing issues facing minority or poor communities that historically have had less access to credit. Additionally, change is not just about race and ethnicity; social class and access to capital matters as well.

There is a lot to consider here and to follow up on with more data, analysis, and interpretation.

Whites are the ones who want to live away from blacks, not the other way around

Here is a reminder of how whites and blacks view diversity in their neighborhoods differently:

This notion is a popular one: that people like to live among their own. But it’s highly misleading, because research has shown that it is far more true for white Americans than for black Americans. Here’s what a 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist Maria Krysan and other scholars, published in the American Journal of Sociology, found: Given a choice of all-white, 60 percent white and 40 percent black, or all-black, “whites said the all-white neighborhoods were most desirable. The independent effect of racial composition was smaller among blacks and blacks identified the racially mixed neighborhood as most desirable,”along with all-black neighborhoods.

And it isn’t so much that whites want to live among “people who are similar to them,” Krysan and her co-authors write, but rather that “anti-black feelings [are] driving whites’ residential preferences.”

Other studies, the authors note, have found that whites are not comfortable with more than 20 percent of their neighbors being black, while blacks prefer a 50-50 split and don’t particularly prefer either all-white or all-black neighborhoods. Importantly, black people’s aversion to all-white neighborhoods is rooted not in a desire to live exclusively among blacks, but rather derives from the fear of discrimination in all-white neighborhoods.

“It is misleading, I think, to use the word ‘voluntary choices’ given what underlies the preferences of African Americans in particular to not be the ‘pioneer’ or one of just a few blacks in a neighborhood/community,” emails Krysan. “A number of different studies (my own and others)… demonstrate that the desire for more diverse neighborhoods is driven importantly by concerns about discrimination in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white. I would not call that a truly ‘voluntary’ choice, given that it is inextricably tied up with past and present circumstances of racial violence and discrimination towards blacks who move into neighborhoods that are all or very predominately white.”

So much for free choice in where people can live; the system still includes discrimination (whether perceived or real doesn’t really matter) as well as economic barriers (many white neighborhoods have higher price points). White Americans would tend to claim that it isn’t about race or ethnicity at all and that it is about economics and quality of life (a shift that took place starting in the 1960s as race-based arguments became illegal and less accepted in public) yet we still have persistent residential segregation.

What is a suburb selling if it is “home to proud Americans”? Whiteness

New Lenox, Illinois is running radio ads extolling its virtues. They include: a growing population, new retail facilities, and opportunities for business. The final selling point? It is “home to proud Americans.” What exactly does this piece of boosterism mean?

If I was guessing, I would say that this is a largely white, working-class to middle-class community. Using this hint to patriotism hints at hard working, long established families. Perhaps the residents of New Lenox are similar to the counties largely in the South where the largest number of residents claim American ancestry. This doesn’t mean people of other backgrounds can’t be “proud Americans” but they may not phrase it that way or lead with it as a key selling point.

Here are the Census QuickFacts for New Lenox: 96.2% white, 5.7% Latino, 3.5% foreign born, 35.5% have a bachelor’s degree, 2.9% poverty rate, and a median household income of $93,609. New Lenox is largely white and wealthy (though not necessarily educated – the bachelor’s degree rate is only a few percentage points higher than the national average).

This is an example of patriotism as racially coded language. The ad may suggest that New Lenox welcomes “proud Americans” but this is not just about love of country; it is about a particular kind of resident.

Housing bubble pushed more whites to leave mixed-race neighborhoods

A recent study suggests that American housing bubble influenced racial segregation:

In a paper released earlier this year, researchers Amine Ouazad and Romain Rancière show how the credit boom affected the racial makeup of U.S. neighborhoods. Expanded credit led some black households to leave mostly black neighborhoods for more racially mixed neighborhoods, a move consistent with buying larger or newer homes in areas with better schools or more amenities. Yet at the same time, their report finds that the credit boom led still more white households to leave racially mixed neighborhoods for mostly white neighborhoods—meaning greater isolation for black households…

Given easier access to credit, black households moved into more mixed neighborhoods—but not at the rates that whites households were leaving them. And black households found little purchase in mostly white neighborhoods, Ouazad explains…

“Empirically, what we observe is that black households tend to become homeowners in their own neighborhoods or in mixed neighborhoods,” Ouazad says, “whereas white households used their mortgage credit to move into mostly white neighborhoods.”

The researchers say they were surprised by these findings. Yet, this fits the longer-term patterns in American life: when they are able to, whites tend to move away from blacks. While we may not be in the era of racial covenants, restricted deeds, and redlining (early 1900s) or blockbusting and white flight (post-World War II), whites still express their preference to live in mostly white neighborhoods rather than live with blacks.

It would be worthwhile to then track these neighborhoods that have experienced significant racial change just before and after the housing bubble. What happens in the long-term? Once whites leave, do the neighborhoods (often suburbs) become majority black or do they also offer space for other non-whites? And do those attractive amenities blacks sought continue to exist, thrive, or decline over time?

The social networks of white Americans are 93% white

In trying to explain why white Americans don’t see racial issues in Ferguson, Missouri, one writer points to this: white Americans tend to interact largely with other white Americans.

Drawing on techniques from social network analysis, PRRI’s 2013 American Values Survey asked respondents to identify as many as seven people with whom they had discussed important matters in the six months prior to the survey. The results reveal just how segregated white social circles are.

Overall, the social networks of whites are a remarkable 93 percent white. White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent)…

For most white Americans, #hoodies and #handsupdontshoot and the images that have accompanied these hashtags on social media may feel alien and off-putting given their communal contexts and social networks.

If perplexed whites want help understanding the present unrest in Ferguson, nearly all will need to travel well beyond their current social circles.

This is a good use of social network data. We know that who people interact with and who they are connected to matters. Want more evidence in a pretty easy read? Read Connected, which I have my Introduction to Sociology students read. If I remember correctly, that book addresses all sorts of areas where social networks matter – health, economics, politics, emotions, etc. – but doesn’t address race. Yet, this all makes sense with what we know about how easy it can be for whites to ignore race in America since they aren’t always personally confronted with race or live in places where race is consistently a social issue. And, interacting with people you know like family or coworkers or neighbors matters a lot more than getting more impersonal information from the media which some whites argue is always talking about race.

One other thought: social networks are also related to where people live. Given the propensity of white Americans to move to places that are largely white, residential segregation plays into this.

Estimate that 8.3% of Americans changed racial or ethnic identity between the 2000 and 2010 Census

A new study provides a reminder of the fluidity of racial and ethnic identities as a number of Americans reported different identities on the 2000 and 2010 Census:

The report showed that 1 in 16 people — or approximately 9.8 million of 162 million — who responded to both the 2000 and 2010 censuses gave different answers when it came to race and ethnicity.If extrapolated across the entire population, that would mean that 8.3 percent of people in the United States would have made a change in their racial or ethnic identity in that decade, according to the paper authored by Sonya Rastogi, Leticia E. Fernandez, James M. Noon and Sharon R. Ennis of the U.S. Census Bureau and Carolyn A. Liebler of the University of Minnesota.

The largest change was from Hispanic (some other race) to Hispanic white, with 2.38 million people making that change on their census forms. But the next greatest change was from Hispanic white to Hispanic (some other race), with 1.2 million people deciding that designation fit them better. Put together, these two changes make up more than a third (37 percent) of the race/ethnicity changes in the report…

The groups most likely to change were people who were children and/or living in the West in 2000. That region also had a higher rate of interracial marriage, and multiple race reporting, the report said. The census defines the West as being Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The most stable groups were single-race, non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians, with those who checked those boxes staying with them in both censuses. People were also consistent with their Hispanic/non-Hispanic choices.

Those who make strong predictions about the demography of the United States in the coming decades have to contend with changes like this. It isn’t as easy as suggesting that the proportion of whites will continue to decline. What if more Hispanics see themselves as white? White as a category changed quite a bit in the past to include new immigrant groups and will likely continue to change in the future. All of this introduces uncertainty in thinking about how this could play out with contemporary debates, like with immigration.

It would also be interesting to compare the responses provided to the Census versus an everyday understanding of one’s racial and/or ethnic identity. The Census categories have their own history and may not always match lived realities.

Glaeser argues “desegregation is unsung US success story”

Residential segregation is a persistent feature of American life (a few earlier posts here, here, and here). Yet, economist Edward Glaeser argues that things are improving on this front:

As the figure shows, as of 1970, almost 80 percent of either whites or blacks would have had to move neighborhoods in order to achieve an even distribution of whites and blacks within the average metropolitan area. By 1990, that dissimilarity measure had dropped to 66 percent; it is 54 percent today. We are very far from living in a perfectly integrated society, but our nation is far more integrated than it was 40 years ago.

The progress over the last decade has been particularly dramatic. Every one of the 10 largest metropolitan areas experienced drops in both dissimilarity and isolation of 3.6 points or more. The isolation index is below 45 percent in every one of those 10 largest areas, except for Chicago. Long among the most segregated places in America, the Windy City has experienced a particularly dramatic decline in segregation since 2000.

The general decline in segregation has also been accompanied by a change in its nature. Before 1968, segregation is best understood as the result of hard, if often informal, barriers against black mobility. There were neighborhoods that were simply off-limits. The effect was that blacks paid more for housing, especially in more segregated cities…

After 1970, however, that pricing pattern switched. By 1990, blacks were paying less for housing than whites, especially in more segregated metropolitan areas. This switch can be explained if segregation, post-1970, reflects white preferences rather than barriers preventing black mobility. If the segregation that remains is the result of whites liking to live in primarily white neighborhoods, then we should expect whites to pay a price for limiting their own choices, and that is exactly what the data show.

The decline in segregation hasn’t been uniform across the black population. Much of the decline reflects relatively well- educated black Americans moving into white districts. While that freedom is something to celebrate, the exodus of the more skilled left many urban neighborhoods behind, and the effect of growing up in a segregated community appears to have gotten worse over time.

A few things to note here:

1. Glaeser ends by suggesting this is a triumph for everyone. While the numbers overall may have improved, there is still a lot of work to do – as he notes, cities like Chicago still have higher levels of segregation and only certain segments of the black population have had the options to move to whiter areas. On one hand, you want to celebrate progress but on the other hand, you don’t want to minimize the fact that this is still a major issue. The issue of where people (can) live is tied to a lot of other concerns including school performance, wealth, and life chances.

2. Glaeser suggests the change in recent decades is due to white preferences rather than the presence of real barriers. Two thoughts on this:

a. Really? There are no barriers for lower-income or non-white residents to move into wealthier areas? Why do we still then have cases about exclusionary zoning (such as an example in Westchester County)? Why there are still big debates about constructing affordable housing (an example from Winnetka, Illinois)?

b. Glaeser seems to suggest these white preferences are okay since they pay for this privilege. This is the appropriate penalty for essentially restricting the abilities of others to live in certain places? I bet a lot of sociologists might have some complaints about this – this is the key difference between de jure and de facto segregation and both have negative outcomes.

Another story on Glaeser’s study has a response from a sociologist who suggests some caution:

“We’re nowhere near the end of segregation,” says Brown University sociologist John Logan, who was not involved in the study. “There are still no signs of whites moving into what were previously all-minority neighborhoods, and there is still considerable white abandonment of mixed areas.”

3. Glaeser also seems to be only looking at the black/white divide in where people live, the widest measure. I would be interested to hear his explanations for the differences between whites and other groups.