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Chicago tops nation for segregation, but sees 2nd-largest decline in U.S

Updated: March 1, 2012 9:51AM

Chicago remains the most segregated big city in America, but it also has experienced some of the sharpest declines in segregation of those cities during the last 10 years, according to a national study released Monday.

The study, which examined U.S. Census Bureau data stretching back to 1890, found that cities are more integrated than at any time since 1910, and that “all-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct.”

“A half century ago, one-fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents,” according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study, “The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America’s neighborhoods, 1890-2010. “Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little black population.”

Greater access to credit; movement of African Americans to the suburbs; gentrification; immigration, and fair housing laws all have played a role in reducing segregation, according to the study.

Of the 10 largest cities, Chicago has seen the second-largest declines in segregation between 2000 and 2010; only Houston saw a greater decrease. Some observers say overt racism in housing may be waning, but economic disparity produces the same result.

“In some instances, the race question rises up, but in most instances, that’s not what rises up,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) “What rises up, is can you pay the mortgage? Can you pay the rent.”

And in many cases — particularly with the high-end condos and apartments on the city’s Near South and West sides, African-Americans cannot, Davis said.

The study uses two key measures, something called “isolation” and “dissimilarity.”

Isolation measures the tendency for members of one racial group to live in neighborhoods where their share of the population is above the citywide average. Dissimilarity measures the extent to which two racial groups are found in equal proportion in all neighborhoods.

The study cites the tearing down of housing projects nationwide, including the Robert Taylor Homes, as a factor in decreasing segregation.

According to one key measure, Dallas and Houston are the least segregated large cities.

“The difficult thing for a city like Chicago is that once predominantly black neighborhoods are established, they very rarely change,” said one of the authors of the study, Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University. “. . . Cities that have integrated the most — places like Houston — they are places with lots of [recent] population growth and lots of new housing.”

The study describes the 1960s as the “heyday of racial segregation.”

“During those years, the fight against housing segregation seemed to offer the possibility that once the races mixed more readily, all would be well. Forty years later, we know that this dream was a myth,” the report said. “There is every reason to relish the fact that there is more freedom in housing today than 50 years ago and to applaud those who fought to create that change. . . . At the same time, there has been only limited progress in closing achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites.”

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