Monday, January 30, 2012

The all-white neighborhood is extinct! Tell that to the guy on 155th Street stuck between all-blonde SUVs...Oh, and KC ranks high in desegregation?

Good news? Well, my guess is some members of the local media will doubtless see it that way.

Segregation, as a disease of the last century, is in remission, according to a study released today by researchers at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. And, according to the work of Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor, Kansas City shows one of the biggest declines in segregation among the nation’s most segregated cities.

Now, if you’ve driven down 155th Street recently from State Line west into the sunset, you might think, ‘Ah, what magic you can do with numbers.” Stopped at the light at Metcalf Ave., for example, you find yourself boxed in by giant SUVs piloted by blonde drivers with blonde children in soccer uniforms staring blankly out the back windows… or – just as likely – sticking their pink tongues out at you for whatever indignity you apparently suffer.

Lexus in front, Mercedes behind, Tahoe to the left, BMW to the right. You’ve no doubt wondered as you waited where all this money comes from. What do these people do?

So, these statistics deserve a closer look than I’m offering here. Much closer.

Start with this: Kansas City ranked ninth among the 10 most segregated American cities in 1970. That’s no surprise in a city once ranked first for the most highway miles between population centers. Wichita ranked seventh on the most segregated list and Chicago, of course, ranked first.

In 1970, 91.1 percent of all Chicago metropolitan census tracts were segregated. The researchers utilize a statistical tool called a dissimilarity index – a tool I will not pretend to understand. The index number for Kansas City was 87.5 percent in 1970.

What I think this means is that in 87.5 percent of the city's census tracts, at least half the African American faces with have to be replaced with white faces to achieve perfect integration.

By 2010, Kansas City had fallen to 57.7 percent on the index, a decline of 29.8 percent. This was the fourth largest decline among the top 10 most segregated cities. Oklahoma City, Wichita, and Dayton, Ohio, experienced larger declines in the index.

And in the first decade of this century, Kansas City ranked ninth overall in the decline of segregation. Between 2000 and 2010, census information shows a decline in segregation – measured by the dissimilarity index -- in Kansas City from 68.6 percent to 57.7 percent, a 10.9 percent decline. In the same decade, Detroit went from 84.2 percent to 68.6 percent. But Detroit was also essentially depopulated.

Of course, Kansas City was still the fourth most segregated city on the list of biggest losers.

I’m not sure how hard we should pat ourselves on the back about this. It will be interesting to see what the local media does with this story in the coming days. The researchers, however, were sufficiently impressed with the results they culled from the census numbers to declare the all-white neighborhood is "extinct" in modern America. Extinct.

Well, they do hedge a bit when they explain what they mean by extinct.

“All-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct. A half-century ago, one-fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents. Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little black population.”

Allow a statistical idiot to rephrase. What the latest census data found is 199 of every 200 neighborhoods has at least one African American resident. That feels a bit closer to reality.

By this definition America is completely integrated, thanks in particular to those Latin immigrants the great grandsons of Polish and German immigrants love to hate. The researchers point out 99.8 percent of all census tracts in America contain at least one person who claims Hispanic heritage.

All these numbers remind me of a time I was interviewing a demographer at Johnson County Community College. I was curious about whether the constant booster boast that the golden goose sported the second highest income per resident in the nation was actually true. This demographer showed me something else, something that had been at first a statistical puzzle for her staff. They had compiled a scattergram of residents of color in the county. And right there square in the middle of Mission Hills was the highest concentration of black dots in the entire scattergram. How could this be?

They did a little checking. No, they found no hitherto hidden ghetto of color just west of State Line. The census had simply picked up a large concentration of live-in help. Gardeners, chauffers, maids.

Perhaps the most telling results of today’s study come from the researchers’ own cautions. I’ll quote them at length because they are worth pondering:

“The 1960s were the heyday of racial segregation. During those years, segregation seemed a likely cause of many of the troubles afflicting African-Americans. Segregation was so enormous, and so unfair, that it seemed to create a separate and unequal experience for African-Americans everywhere. During those years, the fight against housing segregation seemed to offer the possibility that once the races mixed more readily, all would be well.

“Forty years later, we know that this dream was a myth. There is every reason to relish the fact that there is more freedom in housing today than 50 years ago and to applaud those who fought to create that change. Yet we now know that eliminating segregation was not a magic bullet. Residential segregation has declined pervasively, as ghettos depopulate and the nation’s population center shifts toward the less segregated Sun Belt. At the same time, there has been only limited progress in closing achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites.

“The difficult lesson of these decades is that society is complicated and single solutions rarely solve everything. While the decline in segregation remains good news, far too many Americans still lack the opportunity to achieve meaningful success.”

--Lofflin… more on this later…

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