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Segregation and the Divergence of Social Worlds

Earlier we explained that geographically concentrated poverty follows directly from two fundamental structural conditions in society: a high rate of minority poverty and a high degree of minority residential segregation, a relation now established both mathematically and empirically. We also noted that although average levels of Black residential segregation have fallen in the past four decades, the declines have been highly uneven and inter-metropolitan variation in the degree of segregation has increased. In contrast, levels of Black poverty have remained fairly stable, on average, and inter-metropolitan variability has decreased. Under these circumstances we would expect to observe a significant positive association between Black-White segregation and the concentration of Black poverty. To the extent that Whites are disproportionately affluent, of course, a high degree of Black-White segregation also tends to concentrate White affluence, as shown in Fig. 2.4. Thus we expect variation in racial residential segregation to substantially affect the size of the gap in

Fig. 2.8 Relationship between racial segregation and gap in percentage affluent between poor Black and affluent White neighborhoods

neighborhood circumstances experienced by poor Blacks and affluent Whites in American society, that is, between the social worlds of the most affluent and poorest segments of the nation.

Figure 2.8 illustrates this relationship through a scatterplot showing the ratio of the average percentage affluent in neighborhoods occupied by affluent Whites (indicating the neighborhood privilege enjoyed by those at the top of American society) to the average percentage affluent in neighborhoods occupied by poor Blacks (indicating the relative lack of neighborhood privilege suffered by the bottom of U.S. society) expressed as a function of the level of Black-White segregation. The diagram reveals an obvious positive relationship, confirming the close connection between segregation and race-class inequality in the United States.

As can be seen, as the degree of racial segregation rises, the gap between affluent White and poor Black neighborhoods with respect to the rate of affluence steadily rises. According to the estimated equation, shifting the Black-White dissimilarity index from 15 to 80 (roughly the observed range of Black-White segregation) would raise the size of the gap from a ratio of 1.5 to 5.3. Although the equation does not control for the many other factors that might be expected to influence the size of the gap between those at the top and bottom of American society, it nonetheless illustrates the degree to which segregation by itself operates to concentrate geographical advantages and disadvantages, as demonstrated analytically by Quillian (2012) and empirically by a growing number of studies (cf. Massey and Denton 1993; Sampson 2012; Sharkey 2013; Massey and Brodmann 2014).

Fig. 2.9 Relationship between racial segregation and gap in potential home wealth between poor Black and affluent White neighborhoods

Figure 2.9 repeats the analysis using the ratio of affluent White to poor Black potential housing wealth to reveal an even stronger relationship between segregation and the gap in neighborhood access to wealth. Shifting levels of Black-White segregation from their minimum to maximum would raise the housing wealth gap from a ratio from 1.4 to 3.8. Black residential segregation thus goes a long way toward explaining the savage neighborhood inequalities in wealth that increasingly separate poor African-Americans from affluent Whites in American society today.

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