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Income segregation rising in rapidly changing cities

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, San Antonio, Texas, is one of the most economically segregated metro areas in the nation.

A study released today by the Pew Research Center shows that economic segregation is on the rise. According to the report, upper and lower income Americans are more likely to live in a neighborhood that is economically segregated today than they were 30 years ago.

“The report finds that in 2010, 28% of the nation’s low-income households were located in a census tract in which a majority of residents were also low income, and 18% of high-income households lived in a majority high-income census tract. Back in 1980, just 23% of low-income households and 9% of high-income households were located in such economically segregated neighborhoods.”                

Pew Research Center: The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income

The study shows that the reduction of middle class neighborhoods and increase of upper income areas over the past thirty years correlates with the increase in economically segregated neighborhoods. 

“These increases are related to the long-term rise in income inequality, which has led to a shrinkage in the share of neighborhoods across the United States that are predominantly middle class or mixed income – to 76% in 2010, down from 85% in 1980 – and a rise in the shares that are majority lower income (18% in 2010; up from 12% in 1980) and majority upper income (6% in 2010, up from 3% in 1980).”

Pew Research Center: The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income

Duke University economist and Prof. Jacob Vigdor claims that as the manufacturing business slowed down in the 1980s, more people left certain neighborhoods, thus leaving low income people behind.                

“Those were solid, middle class jobs and a lot of those opportunities have evaporated,” Vigdor said. “The hollowing out of middle-class jobs relates to the hollowing out of middle-class neighborhoods.”                

Vigdor claims that this is a sign of a new kind of segregation in America. He says 30 years ago, neighborhoods were segregated racially, but integrated economically -- and today it is the exact opposite.                 

“People tend not to switch races over time,” said Vigdor. “However, people’s incomes do change.”                

He argued that while there have been many cases and legislation geared towards integrating neighborhoods from a racial aspect, there has been no Supreme Court ruling outlawing low income people not being able to live in certain neighborhoods.  

University of Texas economist James Galbraith said these numbers may be a sign of more positional competition.

“People are striving to buy into upper class neighborhoods because the schools are better,” said Galbraith. “That pushes up rents and pushes out poor people.”                

The study also shows that economic segregation is the highest in Texas. Of the nation’s 30 largest metro areas, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston were the most economically segregated. Galbraith says this may be due to new construction in certain areas throughout the state.

“Construction of neighborhoods in Texas has been geared towards people who have money. Does not attract lower income workers like teachers or single parent households.”               

Jacob Vigdor, who also serves as an Adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute,  says that people may see this study and envision gated, wealthy communities taking over America.  But, he adds, this is really a story of people having the means to leave declining communities and doing it.    

About the author

John Ketchum is an assistant producer for Marketplace’s wealth & poverty desk.

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