U.S. housing market remains deeply segregated

(MoneyWatch) The real estate market today reflects an ugly, if often forgotten, truth: Residential segregation in the U.S. is alive and well. Although that problem is commonly thought of as a relic of America's racially troubled past, a recent study shows that fewer black and white families are today moving into multi-ethnic neighborhoods.

"We pay a lot of attention to this proliferation of multi-ethnic neighborhoods, but they are still only a small part of the overall inter-neighborhood mobility picture for blacks and whites," said Kyle Crowder, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and lead author of the study, in a statement. "Blacks tend to originate in neighborhoods with very high concentrations of blacks and, when they move, they tend to move to other places that have very high concentrations of blacks. Their typical destination is not a multi-ethnic neighborhood. The same goes for whites."

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Indeed, segregation appears to be on the rise despite an overall increase in the number of racially and ethnically mixed neighborhoods, which the study defines as areas whose populations were at least 10 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic or Asian, and 40 percent white.

A range of factors, including high levels of existing residential segregation, poverty, and large suburban populations, tend to limit residential integration for black and white families. "Lower levels of these characteristics promote integration," Crowder said. "Additionally, mobility into more diverse neighborhoods is more common in metropolitan areas with large supplies of new housing and relatively large concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities."

So while the days of government-mandated segregation are over, drastic socioeconomic differences between white and minority families result in a de facto cultural divide.

According to the study, of the nearly 3,700 moves that black families made from predominantly black neighborhoods between 1977 and 2005, roughly 61 percent were to other mostly black neighborhoods. Only 2 percent were to chiefly white neighborhoods, while about 19 percent were to multi-ethnic neighborhoods and just over 18 percent were to other types of neighborhoods.

Of the 9,940 moves black families who moved from all types of neighborhoods in the same time period, 44 percent were to predominantly black neighborhoods. Five percent of these moves were to mostly white neighborhoods, 17.7 percent were to multie-ethnic districts and 33.6 percent were to other types of neighborhoods.

The numbers are even more skewed for white families. Of the nearly 5,000 moves white families made from predominantly white neighborhoods over the same time period, three-quarters were to other primarily white neighborhoods.

"Our study tells a somewhat pessimistic story, but it's also a realistic story," said Crowder, noting that residential segregation influences crime rates and racial disparities in health and exposure to pollution. "When people say, 'Segregation is going away' and 'We don't need to worry about it anymore,' those are messages that people will latch onto quickly," Crowder says. "Unfortunately, those types of statements are just untrue."