This tells a lot about life in the United States– for better and for worse.
While segregation of neighborhoods by race is decreasing, segregation by income is increasing.
A report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center said the percentage of upper-income households situated in affluent neighborhoods doubled between 1980 and 2010, rising to 18 percent. In the same time frame, the share of lower-income households located in mostly poorer neighborhoods rose from 23 percent to 28 percent. The percentage of neighborhoods that are predominantly middle class or home to a wider mix of income levels shrank.
“The country has increasingly sorted itself into areas where people are surrounded by more of their own kind, if you will,” said Paul Taylor, the Pew Center’s director of demographic trends and a co-author of the report, adding that the majority of neighborhoods in the country are still mostly middle class or mixed.
The Pew study is the latest scholarly analysis of census data showing the impact of a slow and steady squeezing of the middle class, which in turn has swelled the two income extremes. Because of a lag in the way census data are tabulated, the full impact of the recession that started at the end of 2007 will not become clear for several years.
What sociologists call “segregation by income” at the neighborhood level has been underway for decades, but the most recent census data suggest that the pace picked up between 2000 and 2010.
Both Pew and a study by two Stanford University sociologists last year say the biggest factor behind the growing residential isolation is a rise in income inequality. The Stanford study said the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods has dropped over four decades, from almost two-thirds to less than half.
The rising phenomenon of segregation by income — at a time when segregation by race is on the decline — may have implications for communities and politics.
Reardon said a neighborhood that lacks socioeconomic diversity could be less supportive of taxes to fund schools, parks and social services in other neighborhoods.
“If people with most of the money and wealth live separately from everyone else, there’s going to be less investment in the neighborhoods where the middle class and the poor live,” he said.
However, the Pew report notes, “one of the major findings arising from the 2010 Census is that black-white segregation continues to decline in America… In 1980, the typical black American lived in a census tract that was 58% black; by 2010, that share dropped to 45%.”
I think we can all welcome declining racial segregation, and hope the trend picks up speed in coming years. But can anyone who cares about the social and economic health of the United States welcome the trend of rising income inequality and the increasing segregation by class that accompanies it?