Residential Segregation Persists as African Americans Move to Suburbs

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Suburban populations in the United States grew in diversity in the last decade, as more people of color headed toward communities that once so clearly represented the American Dream. But that movement didn't automatically lead to significant increases in integration, and African Americans remained among the most racially segregated population groups in the nation, according to data from the 2000 Census.

There can be no denying a slow-paced crawl toward integration, but close study of the census data indicates that our nation remains largely a collection of racially segregated communities.

The portion of Blacks living in suburbs grew from 34 percent in 1990 to 39 percent in 2000, while Hispanics went from 46 percent to 49 percent and Asians from 53 percent to 58 percent. Though whites (non-Hispanic) were 82.1 percent of U.S. suburbia in 1990, census data indicate that almost one in four suburban residents are now African American, Hispanic or Asian. Whites, however, still were far more likely to live in suburbs (nearly 71 percent) than any other group.

That reality, along with a drop in white populations in the nation's central cities and a jump in those cities' minority populations reinforced a U.S. racial divide: cities made up largely of people of color and suburbs with mainly white populations.

Overall, the fraction of whites living in central cities dropped from almost 60 percent in 1990 to a bare majority (51.4 percent) in 2000. Whites were the minority in the nation's 100 largest cities. By contrast, African Americans constituted 21.8 percent of central city populations (about the same as 1990's, 21.4 percent), Hispanics 19.3 percent (up from 14.1) and Asians 6 percent (up from 4).

(There is evidence that in some major cities white flight dropped, and perhaps even reversed itself, late in the decade. However, these developments were not yet strong enough to counter the trends toward increasingly minority central cities, and probably will not be in the next decade if Hispanic and Asian immigrant populations continue to grow in the central cities.)

In the midst of the nation's growing diversity - in which about 69 percent of the population is white, 12.3 percent African American, 12.5 percent Hispanic, and about 4 percent Asian - Black America remains the most racially isolated.

The dissimilarity index - an equation by which segregation is measured - did drop slightly for African Americans, from 69.5 in 1990 to 65.2 in 2000, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of 2000 Census data conducted by Edward L. Glaeser and Jacob L. Vigdor. That is Black America's lowest level since 1920.

Social scientists, however, consider dissimilarity scores over 60 to reflect high levels of segregation. The dissimilarity scores for Hispanics (51.5 in 2000 and 51.3 in 1990), and for Asians (42.0 in 2000, and 43.9 in 1990) represent moderate levels of segregation. At this pace (a 4. …