The increase in residential segregation by income

by on November 2, 2013 at 5:05 pm in Current Affairs, Data Source | Permalink

Via Kevin Drum:

Via Harrison Jacobs, here’s a recent study showing the trend in income segregation in American neighborhoods. Forty years ago, 65 percent of us lived in middle-income neighborhoods. Today, that number is only 42 percent. The rest of us live either in rich neighborhoods or in poor neighborhoods.

There is more here.

david November 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Or maybe increasing population density has merely made census tracts geographically smaller…

Brian November 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm

In what country do you think this increase in population density is happening?

America’s population density has been falling as Americans move out to the suburbs. (Technically, the density of the nation as a whole increases because population rises while land area stays nearly the same, but the density of the neighborhood the median American lives in has been falling.)

david November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Census tracts have to totally divide up the whole country, so in those suburbs that you mention, in the 1970s they would have been drawn to include vast areas of the surrounding farmland. It is in these farmlands that McMansions began to sprout across the 1980s.

The study uses means, not medians, so as long as the national population is rising, the Census tracts (which maintain a fixed population) necessarily get smaller. And, therefore, also more homogeneous, even if nothing else changes.

Bill November 2, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Very good. Also, as the inhabitants of neighborhoods grow older, if there is little movement of persons into or out of the neighborhood, if you do not control for age, what you might find is that neighborhood income increases, and then declines, even though wealth stays the same or increases, because the neighborhood begins having more retirees. Compare that mix to a new neighborhood in the suburb where everyone’s age is the same.

Rahul November 2, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Is there a universally recognized definition of what “middle-income” means?

Or is this one of those factoids that can be hammered to reveal whatever conclusion you want depending on how the author chooses his rich / poor definitions?

Abe Froman November 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm

You have a two-tiered education system, you get two-tiered housing. Want to stop this? Allow vouchers…

The Anti-Gnostic November 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Are people just now finding out that if you want white/Asian neighbors, you have to pay for them?

So Much For Subtlety November 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I don’t think it is so simple as a White neighborhood because I think White neighborhoods have changed. What people do not want to live next to is dysfunction. No one does. The most visible dysfunction is, of course, African American. So everyone who can move from such neighborhoods does so. Even African Americans.

But as Charles Murray showed so nicely, White neighborhoods are becoming dysfunctional too. It used to be that if you moved somewhere with a lot of Whites, you knew you were safe. I doubt that is true any more. It is that you have to move to be around other middle class people. And I am willing to bet that is what is driving income segregation.

Jonfraz November 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Not necessarily: there were always “white trash” enclaves (trailer parks and the like) that people stayed out of if they could.

So Much For Subtlety November 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Sure but in the old days it was on a much smaller scale. Everyone knew the White trash. The problem is that White trash is increasingly all that there is outside of the Upper Middle Class. Decent working class – and mainly Catholic – neighborhoods are a thing of the past.

The Sixties are a gift that just keeps on giving.

athEIst November 4, 2013 at 10:08 am

Absolutely. In about 1960-1970 St Louis’ west end ghetto and North side ghetto grew together. North St. Louis emptied out(white flight) into St. Louis county(separate) and north St. Louis became all black. After about 15-20 years north St. Louis became unlivable and became depopulated- black flight to North St. Louis county.
St Louis population 1960 865,000
St Louis population 2010 319,000.
South St. Louis remains ethnically, Polish, Italian, Slavic and Balkan—for now.

Jonfraz November 2, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Why should the two-tiered education system matter? When I was growing up our middle class neighborhood had men in it who had not graduated high school. and other with PhDs.

mulp November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm

How would vouchers help? Would the vouchers include a high speed public transit directly to the better schools?

Do you think the free market means you get free reliable self driving cars if you need one?

One reason people move out of urban areas is to escape the reach of the undesirables which means eliminating transportation access so you are out of reach.

superdestroyer November 3, 2013 at 9:58 am

And how would vouchers help the middle class. All vouchers would do it allowed the politically powerful and connect to isolate themselves in a few public schools while allowing all the other schools to go to hell.

Image trying to move to a new city where the only openings in the public school are at Marion Barry High School. Would you make the move?

Bill November 2, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Do you interact more with your neighbors or with persons at work?

Do your kids interact more with neighborhood kids or more with other kids in after school activities?

How much does neighborhood and neighborhood interaction matter today?

For the answer we turn to Facebook and the NSA for a network analysis of your personal network…..

Ted Craig November 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I would imagine most workplaces and afterschool activities are even more segregated.

Dan November 2, 2013 at 9:06 pm

It’s a luxury of the rich to not care whom their neighbors are. The poor are forced to interact with them whether they like it or not. Trust me.

Dan November 2, 2013 at 9:13 pm

As Steve Sailer has observed, the worst thing about being poor in America is living next to other poor people. If you don’t understand the meaning of that, you haven’t lived next to them. Not having them yelling all night is a luxury, a luxury you spoiled fuck.

Rahul November 2, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Are other nations more rich-poor mixed?

mike November 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

Other nations’ poor do not behave so poorly.

Skip Intro November 3, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Cite needed.

Mo November 2, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Aren’t after school activities linked to schools, which are linked to neighborhoods? And even for the activities that weren’t (like Little League), those are also largely determined by neighborhood.

Bill November 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Good poin, to a point. School activities are linked to schools, but in large high schools or junior highschools, drawing from diverse income levels, there is more interaction after school with kids not in your neighborhood. In my grandson’s school–which is fed by university neighborhoods, upper middle class neighborhoods, and lower class neighborhoods–the kids interact more with kids different income lelvels in afterschool activities, like soccer and baseball. It’s really interesting not only watching the kids at a game, but their parents as well, when they come from different neighborhoods.

jorod November 2, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Urban renewal was urban removal. Removal of the middle class.

maybe morals decline sometimes November 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm

for the poetically inclined there are many poems and deeply felt novels on the effects of selfish aristocratic fencing in and fencing out over the years. See Laxness on barbed wire, every 18th century English poet who did not live in London or Bath on the abuse of their aristocrats’ version of rural eminent domain, and so on.
For the numerically inclined run a ballpark figure on second rate crime movies of the 50s and the extent of harm inflicted in the various neighborhoods depicted therein, and second rate crime movies of the later decades and the extent of harm inflicted therein. Assuming that second rate movies track (in a more numerically accurate fashion than first rate movies) the reality the intended audience has left behind at the entrance of the theater, you might reach the conclusion that the change since the 50s has something to do with things that are not measured well by most economists.

mike November 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Yes as your name suggests it seems the worst thing we can do is turn a legitimate concern into a snarky comical meme, i.e. turning people concerned about morality into the ubiquitous butt of jokes has basically led to a complete destruction of morality and the attendant consequences, with anyone objecting either seen as a figure of ridicule or confused for a parody

maybe morals decline sometimes November 3, 2013 at 11:29 am

excellent observations, Mike. Even better, you made your point much more concisely than I did ….

Dylan November 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I noticed on Halloween that my neighborhood was mobbed by cars from presumably lower income neighborhoods to come partake in upmarket trick-or-treating. This wasn’t a thing when I was kid 25+ years ago, but I lived in a much larger less differentiated middle class neighborhood then.

Dismalist November 2, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Dylan, I do sympathize with your comment, but the poor didn’t have cars then! :-)

Mark Thorson November 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm

No problem in the affluent neighborhood where I live. The zoning is one house per acre, so the labor for gathering treats is much higher than in denser neighborhoods nearby. I haven’t seen any trick-or-treaters since I moved into this house in 1981.

Marie November 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Ah, it’s all about the perspective.

I remember 20 years ago living in a neighborhood where the residents would have two buckets of candy — the good candy for the regular folk, and the cheap candy for the poor Mexicans that would drive their kids to the neighborhood.

Years later, I figured out that there are some neighborhoods out there where people really do up Halloween — really go all out. Haunted houses, decorations, lights, fun. The kind of stuff you usually can only do as a neighborhood, of course, if you’re fairly well off. It’s like the Christmas neighborhoods with the great lights, where people from all over come and drive through.

Everyone drives to those neighborhoods to trick or treat, if they like Halloween. Middle class and poor. But if this is your neighborhood, you don’t notice the outsider middle class kids, because it’s not like you really know that many people in your neighborhood. But when kids come in that look poor or a different ethnicity than usually lives next door, you notice.

There’s other factors there, but I think maybe it’s worth considering whether this is quite as mercenary a trend as it seems.

Marie November 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Maybe people could put up signs, because I’m sure some people go to the fun holiday neighborhoods for the good loot, but others kind of think that if you throw a party or put on a show you are doing it for everyone, not just the people who live closest to you.

I totally recognize that in some groups it’s a given that going several blocks over for an ice cream party, etc., is just not done. But not every group shares the same expectations. It’s quite possible many of the folks driving in to trick or treat have no idea they aren’t welcome. Particularly when it’s a holiday kids are involved with, they probably don’t consider you might not want them there if they aren’t close neighbors.

I’m not idealizing this, of course. When I worked on the border, there were families that would invite me in for dinner, if there were a social event going on everyone everywhere seemed to be welcome — but at the same time, when no one knew who I was and I drove cold through the neighborhood, my uber-white self in a Toyota sedan, for crying out loud, I got the most suspicious looks ever. Every cultural group can be unwelcoming in different circumstances.

Jan November 3, 2013 at 7:43 am

This was definitely a thing when I was trick-or-treating, 20-25 years ago. I lived in a perfectly average middle class neighborhood, but someone’s parent would almost always offer us a ride to hit a few blocks on the “rich” side of town before the night was up. In retrospect, the rich side wasn’t all that rich and we weren’t poor, but full size candy bars were a clear dividing line for the 8 year old me.

Careless November 3, 2013 at 11:33 am

I haven’t noticed that here, but our Fourth of July fireworks are mobbed by Mexicans from a couple of towns over. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 70% out of towners at this point, which has me wondering how much longer we’ll keep spending on it.

JasonL November 2, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I would like to see that chart extended through 2013. My sense is that there were a number of people stretching to get to higher income neighborhoods – paying a far greater percentage of income to mortgage than would be prudent, then 2008 and following things may have returned a bit to sanity. I could be wrong, but I don’t know that many people buying 4k sq ft in the burbs because that’s what you do these days.

Careless November 3, 2013 at 11:47 am

I don’t know that many people buying 4k sq ft in the burbs because that’s what you do these days.

Might want to check your order of magnitude there.

whatever November 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

4,000 square feet seems like the right order of magnitude. What’s wrong with it?

Max Factor November 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm

This will surely end well

~FR November 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm

According to the chart (Fig 1 in article), growth in affluent and high-income neighborhoods EXCEEDED the growth in low income and poor neighborhoods.

But that’s not the approved narrative, so carry on.

Mark Thorson November 2, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Bear in mind that new-builds are more often affluent and high-income neighborhoods. Very little new construction is for the poor. Low-income and poor neighborhoods are once-good neighborhoods that declined.

~FR November 2, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Chart is measuring families, not housing stock. Perhaps I should have written “growth of FAMILIES in affluent/high income…”

So we have more families in either the top two or the bottom two divisions. However, Drum misleads with his comment (per usual.) The middle class didn’t become either rich or poor, they exited the metro area.

Tom Dooley November 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I guess income usually correlates with net worth. But not always, according to “The Millionaire Next Door”. You can’t be absolutely sure who your neighbors are.

Tom November 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm

If poor is <67% median, it's unlikely to ever get rid of that kind of poorness, even if the median is $200k (in 2013 $): $134k < 67% median and, therefore, poor.

This is a crappy definition of poor. Better would be some absolute level ($25k?), with "middle" then defined in the range of that absolute poor level and the unlimited top, and divided into the number of ranges.

This ever increasing escalation of "poverty" constitutes a dishonest, but politically useful, philosophy.

The first 10 pages don't separate the differences between 1 parent and 2 parent families. Since that is a choice of the parents, and I believe a bigger influence than either race or location, it becomes scholarly obfuscation to NOT highlight the choices of having sex and babies without being married as a significant cause of the poverty problems.

mike November 3, 2013 at 10:30 am

There is a tension here because the visceral force that drives the left is relative wealth/status (“inequality”) but they have to frame it as absolute wealth because if they were explicit in talking about relative wealth/status it would become obvious that trying to eliminate it is a fool’s errand

RM November 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Average really is over.

RM November 2, 2013 at 10:16 pm

At what point does the cost of housing in a safe neighborhood in an inner city (yes, many distressed inner cities have safe neighborhoods with functional families) plus the cost of private education (or parochial education) less expensive than buying a house in a suburb with a good school district. I suspect that we are already there, but the stigma of living in an inner cities prevents people from considering this option.

mike November 2, 2013 at 10:24 pm

What “stigma of living in an inner cities [sic]“? If anything, people who live in the inner cities [sic] are considered much higher status than (and by) those who live in the suburbs, if they can do so while still having non-ghetto accouterments.

Boris November 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm

It depends on interest rates and number of kids and where you live.

A house in a suburb with a good school district will set you back $300-1500k depending on metro area. At 4% interest, figure between 15k and 75k mortgage payments, plus property taxes.

So chances are with 1 kid the private school is cheaper. With 2, it really depends on where you are, and with 3 buying starts to be pretty reliably cheaper.

TA November 2, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Mostly, but not entirely, proportional to the shrinking share of households in the 80 to 125 per cent of median income range.

BC November 2, 2013 at 10:51 pm

I was thinking the other day about income segregation in the context of Detroit and its surrounding suburbs, where I grew up. There is a completely open border (called 8 Mile Rd) between Detroit and its northern suburbs, just as there are open borders between wealthy and poor neighborhoods across the country. (Some wealthy neighborhoods may have security gates, but a resident of another neighborhood does not need a visa to move in or to work as a domestic worker in those neighborhoods.) Immigration restrictionist theory asserts that, wherever there is an open border between two regions of vastly different incomes, immigrants from the lower income region will flood into the higher income region, leading to job loss and lowering of incomes in the higher income region. There will be a convergence of incomes between the two regions according to the theory’s proponents. Yet, my impression has been that the income gap between Detroit and its suburbs has grown over time, and this study seems to also reject the prediction of income convergence across very many of the other open borders. (The racial/ethnic composition between Detroit and its suburbs is also quite different, and has remained so, which I gather seems to also be of concern to at least some immigration restrictionists.)

I think someone once pondered in a previous post what would happen if 500 million people were “plunked” into the US as a result of open borders. I don’t know how many people have been “plunked” into our wealthy neighborhoods from poor and middle income neighborhoods but, whatever the number, the wealthy neighborhoods seem to be doing just fine. If labor and housing markets haven’t failed across the intra-country open borders, why would we expect them to fail across inter-country borders? (And, precisely what market failure is purportedly being addressed by immigration restrictions anyways?)

8 November 2, 2013 at 11:31 pm

The wealthy can move away from immigrants, the poor cannot. I’ve met people from Arizona, for example, who say they left California because their entire neighborhood was turning Mexican. Poor people can’t leave, so immigration restrictions serve as a way of letting poor people control who lives in their neighborhoods. The wealthy will always have high property prices, gates, security teams. The poor have to resort to violence and making outsiders feel unwelcome if they don’t want them around, or riot against them coming in and undercutting their wages.

john personna November 3, 2013 at 10:02 am

A simpler explanation, which does not rely on “flight from immigrants” is that very high house prices represent a stiffer barrier to neighborhood entry.

Brenton November 3, 2013 at 12:55 am

Poor people can’t just move into a wealthy neighborhood. Zoning laws prevent that, just like immigration laws prevent 500 million extra people from moving to the USA.

Careless November 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

IOW, all rich neighborhoods are immigration restrictionist.

BC November 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Zoning laws may restrict the type of housing that is built; they don’t restrict who can buy those houses per se. In any event, whether zoning laws or some other reason are the cause of high housing prices, immigrants from poor nations have as much trouble affording homes in high housing cost nations as poor natives have trouble affording homes in high housing cost neighborhoods. The influence of housing prices on who lives where is a market outcome, not an immigration restriction. My point is that the absence of immigration restrictions does not mean that there is no method for allocating housing (and jobs) — markets perform that function.

Immigration restrictions are government imposed rules that override market outcomes. Open borders are deference to market outcomes.

The Anti-Gnostic November 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

“Open borders” is government policy. “No borders” would be “deference to market outcomes.” Nobody on your side of the debate wants “no borders” because then people would get to draw their own. The status of “immigrant” would cease to exist; there would be sojourners, who would be sorted very quickly into owners, tenants or trespassers.

Dan Weber November 3, 2013 at 10:16 am

Detroit’s suburbs have grown more diverse, particularly as the middle-class blacks have fled Detroit. You can even drive through Grosse Pointe while black and not be pulled over these days.

Roy November 3, 2013 at 1:23 am

As much as it kills me to say this:

Matt Yglesias is almost completely right about this issue.

dan1111 November 3, 2013 at 3:24 am

How does this relate to changes in mobility? The more often people move, the more opportunity there is for income-based sorting to take place.

Marie November 3, 2013 at 7:35 am

The old book “The Organization Man” noted that developers of the new suburbs very strongly inclined people to a certain pattern in housing buying.

You move into a new suburb, you move in on the low cost street. As you upwardly mobile yourself, you move up a street, on up to the fanciest street. They built the suburbs to have layers. Of course, with the new mobility you usually didn’t move “up” within a neighborhood, you were usually transferred to another city and you’d buy up there.

I don’t see as much of this sort of thing these days, it seems more like whole neighborhoods and probably regions in the suburbs are inclined to one level or another.

Don’t know what’s wagging what, though.

Jan November 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

This may be true on average, but I think there is an interesting trend happening in cities. It is wrapped up in the return of young people to cities and the gentrification of urban areas.

My wife and I decided we wanted to live “in the city” recently, because that is where all our friends are and frankly where all the fun is. We live in a neighborhood where we are the young, higher-earning yuppies. Our neighbors are mostly middle income black families who probably pay half as much for their mortgages as we do for our rent, but also some poorer families in apartment buildings and a bit of section 8 housing. The income levels of the neighborhood are quite diverse to me (I am basing this on what jobs people have, what cars they drive, how they dress and general upkeep of their homes). On average it is a middle-income neighborhood. Of course, once gentrification takes strong hold, these neighborhoods can also become less diverse and higher income. Ten years ago, we probably would have moved out to suburb X, lived around families who made the same money we do, and never thought about it. I talk to my friends in other cities across the country and their experience is similar.

Ted Craig November 3, 2013 at 11:42 am

“I talk to my friends in other cities across the country and their experience is similar.”
Yes, because your friends are like you. But despite articles to the contrary, the revival of cities isn’t really happening to a very large extent. And it’s not a question of if the poor will be shoved out, but when. Just look at NYC, especially Brooklyn.

Jan November 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Yeah, my friends are like me, but that was sort of my point. It is younger and often upper-middle income people who are moving back into the cities, whereas they probably wouldn’t have in the past. I haven’t seen good data on it, so you may be right that this isn’t the case in most cities. However, I think this is definitely happening in the larger coastal cities (and at least a few in between).

On your second point: True for the most part, but with some caveats. Obviously when higher-income people move in they are taking the place of others who are vacating. Where I live, the city has taken action to keep low-income housing in the city, offered first time buyer programs for families making <$80,000, etc. It seems to make a difference.

ad*m November 3, 2013 at 11:43 am

Nice. I assume you don’t have kids. Have you looked inside some schools in your neighborhood?

Jan November 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

No kids. No, I haven’t looked inside the schools, but I am aware they are not great. That’s why we have charters, right?

Floccina November 3, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Does anyone know:
If zoning was/is a factor?
If the modern emphasis on getting your kids into “quality schools” a factor?

Floccina November 3, 2013 at 10:06 pm

BTW my reading of the data show that people should be a lot less concerned about good schools than they are because what people think of as a good school does not seem to make much difference. Like Arnold Kling says the null hypothesis on schools is very tough to beat.

prior_approval November 4, 2013 at 9:40 am

I remain completely confident in believing that one reason Prof. Cowen lives where he does is the quality of the local schools.

And anyone who thinks good schools don’t matter probably does not have that much experience in a good school. Admittedly, there aren’t that many good schools – there never have been.

Which tends to be why a certain set of professors at Mason have no problem writing off schooling as being unimportant – Mason is not what anyone who lives where Prof. Cowen does would ever consider a good school, after all.

James November 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm

What do we mean by good schools and how do we differentiate them from mediocre schools? I ask this because clearly I think there is a difference, but I am not sure I can tell the two apart.

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