Segregation in Chicago is a complex interplay between race and income: study

Segregation in Chicago is a complex interplay between race and income: study

We all know Chicago is segregated, right? The most segregated city in America, as a matter of fact, even with the increased integration that's happened in the last 10 years.

But our segregation problems aren't just about race. They're about income too, and the web of connections between what it means to be poor and a person of color in the city.

That's what Lincoln Quillian, professor at Northwestern University, researches. His latest study, Segregation and Poverty Concentration: The Role of Three Segregations, adds a piece to the puzzle of understanding why people live where they live and what that means about their neighborhood.

Not only are people segregated by race and by income, meaning that people of color are likely to live with other people of color and poor people are likely to live with poor people, but Quillian's found that these two kinds of segregation interact, creating a third.

Until now, the study of segregation and poverty has been shaped largely by Douglas Massey, professor at Princeton University and co-author of American Apartheid.

Massey argued that racial segregation in the U.S. essentially equals income segregation.

"He argued that where there's racial inequality like there is in the U.S., when you have groups with unequal levels of resources and racial segregation, that almost automatically concentrates poverty," explained Quillian.

But when researchers tried to quantify Massey's theory with data, it didn't quite work. The models created neighborhoods that were poorer and more segregated than what researchers saw in real life.

"If you have cities that both have especially high poverty in non-white groups and really high segregation, it should create a double-whammy situation that would make a lot of really poor non-white neighborhoods," said Quillian. "But that double whammy aspect of it didn't really quite appear."

Quillian's paper adds in a third kind of segregation. He says that even when neighborhoods are more integrated, people of color tend to have other-race neighbors that are poorer than average for their race. For example, when minorities live near white people, the white neighbors experience poverty at much higher rates than the general white population.

Quillian found that black folks often live by Latino folks, and Latino folks often live by white folks, but even when their communities are more integrated, they still may face concentrated poverty.

Affluent white folks, by contrast, live in neighborhoods where they really don't come into contact with people of different races or different income levels.

Taking these three types of segregations into account, Quillian was able to write an equation that accurately predicts the level of income and racial segregation. In his paper, he pulls out data about the Chicago metro area, and the numbers he uses are really quite interesting.

0.667 - black vs. non-black segregation - on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 is perfectly segregated and 0 is perfectly integrated, black folks in Chicago experience a level of segregation at about 0.667

24.6 percent - 24.6 percent of black folks in Chicago have incomes below the poverty line.

7.3 percent - If you take everyone who isn't black in Chicago, 7.3 percent of them have incomes below the poverty line.

81.4 percent - 81.4 percent of people in Chicago aren't black.

9 percent - Poor black folks have about 9 percent more black neighbors than the general black population of Chicago.

49 percent - Poor black folks have 49 percent more poor black neighbors that than the general black population of Chicago.

66 percent - When black families have non-black neighbors, they are 66 percent more likely to be poorer than average.

8 percent - When poor black families have non-black neighbors, they are 8 percent more likely to be poorer than the neighbors of more affluent black families.

All of that, multiplied together and massaged in Quillian's equation, equals this: 34.6 percent, which means, if you are poor and black in Chicago, on average, 34.6% of people in your neighborhood are also living below the poverty line.

But what does it have to do with real life? It's great that we can more accurately predict the rates of segregation and poverty, but how does that shape policies that try to combat them?

Quillian says it emphasizes how much we have to pay attention to the interaction between segregation and poverty if we're going to combat either - it's not enough to try to influence just one or the other, and in fact, doing so might make things worse.

"It's possible that you could reshuffle in ways that decrease race segregation, but reconstitute income segregation. Black and Latino families could end up living in a neighborhood no less disadvantaged than they started out in," said Quillian.

"If you're interested in having a somewhat lower concentration of poverty, if you think that's going to reduce some of the social problems that are associated with it, just messing with one without paying attention to the other would probably not be a good idea because you can change one and have the other pop up somewhat in its place," said Quillian.

Photo credit: kiwinz

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