In Chicago, even wealthy black families live in poor neighborhoods

Unlike the Jeffersons, affluent minority families aren’t always “movin’ on up.” A new study of recently released census data shows that wealthy black and Hispanic families often live alongside much poorer neighbors.

White families in Chicago making more than $75,000 a year live in neighborhoods where only 7.6 percent of their neighbors make considerably less money–$40,000 a year or less. But black families at the same income level have more than twice as many neighbors–17.9 percent–making less than $40,000, and wealthy Hispanic families have nearly double the white percentage at 12.7 percent.

In Chicago, wealthy white families have fewer poor neighbors, and black families more, when compared with New York and Los Angeles. Sociologist John Logan, director of the US2010 project at Brown University did the study, looking at 2005-2009 census data. He says the trends underlie existing segregation patterns.

“Separate translates to unequal even for the most successful black and Hispanic minorities,” Logan says. “African Americans who really succeeded live in neighborhoods where people around them have not succeeded to the same extent.”

Logan says white families at these income levels have many options to move into neighborhoods where everyone is like them–same race, same income level. But wealthy African-American families don’t have as many options. If they move into a neighborhood where people are the same race, they’ll likely have poorer neighbors. If they go by income level, they’ll likely be one of the few black families living there.

It seems to be closely related to the wealth gap data that we’ve talked about recently–showing that minorities have significantly less wealth than white families, and that gap has grown since the recession. When this gap reinforces where you live, it can lead to significant problems for families, even ones who have a higher socioeconomic status, says Roderick Harrison, sociologist at Howard University.

“Even though they have income comparable to whites, they don’t have access to schools or other neighborhood amenities that would be comparable to those available to white families,” Harrison says. “Some better-off black and Hispanic families are nevertheless living with the same problems poor blacks and Hispanics are living with.”

Of course, Chicago has been trying to encourage this kind of settling–“mixed-income communities”–where the poor live alongside the rich, with often much larger disparities than $75,000 to $40,000. I’ve always wondered how realistic it is to create these communities. People want to live in neighborhoods where people are like them, right? Where they fit in. The trouble for wealthy minority families is that they don’t quite fit in anywhere. That’s sad when successful families don’t have a place to belong.

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© Community Renewal Society 2011


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  • If the gangs keep shooting up places like 74th and Sangamon, or 74th and Evans, those with money are going to be "moving on out."

    Fie on your statistics. Find out why those formerly middle class neighborhoods are becoming shooting galleries.

  • Interesting, I know that there is definitely a clear socia-economic hierarchy within the black community. Very interesting dynamics in your typical "black neighborhood" that may need to be studied further. Great article!

  • Megan, this is a great article thanks for posting. I'm curious what the study had to say about social capital and networks influencing where people live in addition to the financial constraints.

  • Remember minorities are often guilt tripped into staying or else they are accused of turning their backs on the community.

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    The more affluent neighborhoods also do not offer the services we need like salons that know how to do our hair or barbershops, so we would end up spending a lot of time commuting between the two. There are other things we have grown accustomed to that would be missing like ethnic foods and entertainment options with family/friends. Sometimes better homes are available but the problem is really with the educational system and violence. On the flip side, its hard to go where you don't feel welcome and have no support system. Its terrible that you can be made to feel as if you have to watch your back more among neighbors of a different race on your level than violence riddled neighborhoods full of folks of the same race but still can not relate to you. Its making the best of a lose-lose situation.

  • Mixed income neighborhoods don't work they only result in GHETTOIZATION! The northwest side of this city has good public schools because they have racial and economic homogeneity. This isn't possible on the south side because of too much income diversity. Also the white privilege means they have higher property values to keep the poor out. Also black neighborhoods are bought up by investors and entire blocks of buildings are filled with nothing but section 8 making it impossible to form a stable neighborhood. The investor domination has turned black areas into poverty warehouses. Its so sad there really isn't a predominately black middle class area that is a nice area I would move to or recommend. By nice I mean vibrant commercial districts of diverse retail and sit down restaurants, recreation, low crime, good schools with nice pleasant neighbors.

  • What matters to me about my neighbors are they are friendly, respectful, and same middle class status.
    Also an author wrote about this phenomenon of class integration in Black America. Its by Mary Patillo. It talks about how basically a small minority is bringing down the rest of the community.

  • Good article you wrote. I think a affluent African-Americans can teach our people about how to acquire wealth, manage it, and grow it. I know I plan on doing it here on The South Side. Also, I don't like the world "minority." Minority translates to the word "loser." We're not losers. :)

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