More than 80% of U.S. cities are more segregated racially today than they were 30 years ago, a June 21 study claimed to wide press coverage. The study says it shows the “failures of integration” and that it “flies in the face of the prevailing perceptions that the US has become less segregated since the Civil Rights era.”
It also flies in the face of reality. The study’s numbers show that America is becoming more integrated and more welcoming to a wider diversity of racial and ethnic groups. Although segregation in urban centers is real, it is diminishing.
The Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, which sponsored the study, is clear about its advocacy. The institute says its aim is to “raise awareness of the extent and persistence of racial residential segregation.” It also claims that “racial residential segregation remains the ‘lynchpin’—the deep root cause—that sustains systemic racial inequality.”
The study offers no new evidence but applies a different filter to available census data on where people live. Most segregation researchers use the census to create a “dissimilarity index,” which measures how many people of a race would have to move to make every neighborhood contain equal numbers of that race. For instance, if all African-Americans lived in a single neighborhood, almost 100% of them would have to move to create an integrated city, and the index would show about 100% dissimilarity.
The national numbers coming from that index are encouraging. In 1970 almost 80% of African-Americans in a typical city would have to move to create truly integrated neighborhoods across the U.S. By 2010 the share had dropped to 55%.