RACE LIVES - GO DEEPER
In the United States, buying a home is the key to achieving
the American Dream. Forty-two percent of the net worth of all
households consists of equity in their homes - that means for
most Americans, their homes are their single largest asset. Homeownership
provides families with the means to invest in education, business
opportunities, retirement and resources for the next generation.
When the federal government stepped in to make it possible for
most Americans to finance the purchase of their own home, they
essentially paved the way for millions of average white Americans
to begin their own wealth-building. But the policies they endorsed
made it very difficult for minorities to attain the same resources
and opportunities, resulting in deeply segregated communities
and an enormous wealth gap between whites and nonwhites that persists
to this day. In 1995, the median white family had over 8 times
the net worth of the median Black family. The gap is even greater
for Latinos - the median white household has over 12 times the
wealth of the median Latino family.
Race, wealth and life opportunities are intertwined in the United
States. Today, white and nonwhite communities are still "separate
and unequal" and the gap continues to grow, long after the Civil
Rights era. Wealth, and the opportunities it affords, is passed
down through successive generations. Along with it, Americans
have also inherited a legacy of inequality that continues to shape
the future. Segregation and the wealth gap between whites and
nonwhites did not arise on their own. And because they are so
deeply entrenched in the institutions that structure our society,
they will not fade away by simply outlawing discriminatory policies.
What is the state of segregation in the nation's metropolitan
The U.S. population is more racially and ethnically diverse than
ever before. Yet for the most part, America's neighborhoods remain
highly segregated. The only areas that have become more integrated
since 1970 are cities with small minority populations.
- On the whole, segregation is highest in the major metropolitan
areas of the Midwest and Northeast and lower in the West and
- The 2000 census shows that overall the nation's largest cities
have lost large numbers of white residents to suburban and outlying
areas. The urban populace is becoming increasingly Latino and
Asian, with a slight increase in Black residents.
- According to the Lewis Mumford Center at the University of
Albany, segregation has increased in almost every large suburban
area from 1990 to 2000.
- Across the nation, four out of five whites live outside of
the cities and 86 percent of whites live in neighborhoods where
minorities make up less than 1 percent of the population. In
contrast, 70 percent of Blacks and Latinos live in the cities
or inner-ring suburbs.
- According to the Census Bureau's 1999 American Housing Survey,
74 percent of suburban residents owned their own homes, while
only about half of urban residents are homeowners. The proportion
is similar when you compare homeowners by race - in 1999, 74
percent of whites were homeowners, while only 45 percent of
Latinos, 46 percent of Blacks and 51 percent of Asians owned
Whites are still the most segregated of all racial groups, have
the largest suburban presence and are most likely to own their
homes. African Americans continue to be highly segregated and
as Latinos and Asians gain a larger share of the population, they
are becoming increasingly segregated from whites as well.
When whites relocated to the suburbs, their strong tax base and
businesses followed. The result: a huge discrepancy in the quality
and quantity of resources, jobs and public services in central
cities and inner-ring suburbs inhabited by mostly minority populations.
As white communities continue the trend of isolating themselves
and their resources, the pattern of flight and divestment repeats,
and the wealth gap grows larger.
Communities cannot be expected to accomplish integrated, stable
neighborhoods on their own. In a 2002 study by the Harvard Civil
Rights Project, analysts found evidence of an overwhelming trend
toward school district resegregation. Court-ordered busing once
made Southern schools the most integrated in the country. However,
when many of these programs expired in the 1990s, the proportion
of Black students in majority-white schools decreased by 13 percent.
Until the problem of residential seclusion is addressed, schools
will continue to resegregate by default.
But aren't some communities segregated by choice? What about
the Chinatowns, Little Ethiopias and other ethnic enclaves?
People sometimes assume that certain ethnic or racial groups segregate
themselves "voluntarily," but there are many factors involved.
These groups often face discrimination when they try to enter
established, primarily white communities. Limited job and economic
opportunities, language barriers, and shared culture can also
influence many groups to cluster. Ethnic enclaves, however, are
very different from impoverished urban ghettos. Apart from "first-settlement"
immigrant neighborhoods, rarely do ethnic groups ever become as
highly concentrated as many Black communities. Ethnic groups can
tap into various types of resources unavailable to areas of concentrated
poverty: networks of friends and relatives, "niche" occupations
and businesses, etc. Furthermore, ethnic enclaves are more transitory
in nature - as stepping stones to entering more privileged, resource-rich
communities. Still, many groups (such as Latinos and Asians) will
face more barriers based on racial discrimination as they look
to move out.
Confronted with racially discriminatory policies, minorities could
not take advantage of the programs that made it possible for millions
of people to buy homes in the suburbs. People of color remained
in the cities while they witnessed their white counterparts leave
in droves. Today, mostly minority inner cities are characterized
by the unique phenomenon of concentrated poverty. Inner-city residents
face intense spatial isolation and inadequate public resources,
education and economic opportunities. As more and more people
leave, costs for basic services rise and the poor become even
poorer. The average inner city consists of abandoned buildings,
total business disinvestment, and resource-depleted schools leaving
it vulnerable to violent crime, prostitution, and drugs. By the
time anti-discriminatory laws were passed, suburban whites were
enjoying soaring property values and minorities now faced the
economic barriers that replaced those initially created by race.
Moreover, after decades of segregation, a culture of poverty has
become associated with people of color - particularly African
Americans. Inner-city residents are not only surrounded by crime,
drugs, homelessness and poverty, they are blamed for it. As john
powell says, "Not only have we racialized our space, but it is
through space that we do our 'racing' in the 20th century."
How does discrimination, both past and present, continue to
affect the life opportunities of nonwhites?
- In 1992, The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released a study
showing that Black and Latino mortgage applicants are 60 percent
more likely to be turned down for loans than whites, even when
they share similar employment and financial backgrounds.
- According to a 1998 report by the Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), African-American mortgage
applicants were rejected 217 percent as often as whites - up
from 206 percent in 1995. Latino applicants were denied 183
percent as often as whites - up from 169 percent in 1995.
- According to a Department of Housing and Urban Development
study, high-cost loans are offered five times more often in
Black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods. Furthermore,
homeowners in upper-income Black neighborhoods were twice as
likely to receive these sort of loans than homeowners in low-income
white neighborhoods. In 1998, 9 percent of home loans in white
neighborhoods were high cost compared to 51 percent of loans
in Black neighborhoods.
In 2003, we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the 1968 Fair Housing
Act. Nonetheless, housing discrimination persists in subtler forms.
Minorities still experience discrimination on an individual level
as well as through a variety of systematic practices. Realtors
who practice racial steering will direct nonwhites to segregated
areas or direct whites away from integrated areas. Minority mortgage
applicants who are regularly denied loans more often than their
white socioeconomic equals will by necessity turn to predatory
lenders who charge them higher-cost loans than their credit histories
As long as minorities are still barred from desirable communities
and lose out on opportunities to accumulate wealth through rising
property values, socioeconomic inequalities between racial groups
will continue to be reinforced. Even if individual incidences
of discrimination are no longer, the current housing market makes
it almost impossible for a family with little or no assets to
enter it. As home prices in resource-rich communities continue
to rise, low to middle-income families must choose between renting
or buying in at-risk, often segregated suburban communities.
Ironically, defenders of the racial bias in the home lending system
will point to the low net worth of minority applicants, even those
with high incomes. As George Lipsitz points out, "net worth is
almost totally determined by past opportunities for asset accumulation,
and therefore is the one figure most likely to reflect the history
The Resources section of this Web site contains
a wealth of information about issues related to race. There you'll
find detailed information about books, organizations, film/videos,
and other Web sites. For more about this topic, search under "housing,"
"segregation," "wealth," or "white advantage."
Explore the WHERE RACE LIVES interactivities within the LEARN
MORE section of this Web site.
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