The Most Racially Divided Cities in America

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Segregation is alive and well in America. No, not the atrocious legal segregation the country used to have, but rather a systemic economic and cultural segregation that keeps people of different ethnicities separated into their own living areas in the country’s most diverse cities.

FiveThirtyEight calls attention to Chicago, in particular, for having a diverse population and clearly separated living communities. Using data from Brown University’s American Communities Project (which is based on the 2010 census), FiveThirtyEight examined the diversity levels across large U.S. cities. It took the citywide diversity index and compared it to the neighborhood diversity index to find that some of the most diverse cities are the most segregated.

In Chicago, the lines are clearly drawn. The University of Chicago, which sits in Hyde Park, is only 5% black, but just around the corner the neighborhoods have a very different makeup: Washington Park is 97% black, and Woodlawn is 87% black. Other cities that scored high on FiveThirtyEight’s list, having both a high citywide diversity index and a low neighborhood diversity index, were Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Baltimore.

Baltimore, the home to the most recent unrest in response to police violence, is one of the most diverse, yet severely segregated cities. The National Journal notes that the clear race lines that divide living communities stem back to policies once in place in the city. There were residential segregational ordinances in place in 1910, which said that “no negro may take up his residence in a block within the city limits of Baltimore wherein more than half the residents are white.” While the policy was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1917, other discriminatory housing practices continued well into the 1960s.

How segregation has continued in Baltimore

The effects of what was then legal segregation lingers today. Research from Brown and Florida State University found that the average black resident lives in a census tract that’s 62.4% black, and this hasn’t changed since the ’80s despite other changes in demographics as the city as a whole became more diverse.

These cities with stark community lines also see some of the worst rates for unemployment and income for black people. According to FiveThirtyEight, the unemployment rate for black men in Baltimore between the ages of 20 and 24 was 37% in 2013, while it was 10% for white men of the same age range. Only 10% of black men in Baltimore have a college degree, while 50% of white men do. And the median income of $33,000 for black households is just more than half of what white households bring in.

“When I go to Baltimore, on the East Coast, I’m dealing with 1950s-level black-and-white racism,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said at a meeting of President Obama’s task force on policing in February, according to the Baltimore Sun. “It’s taken a step back. Everything’s either black or everything’s white, and we’re dealing with that as a community.”

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