Race, Poverty, and American Cities

By John Charles Boger; Judith Welch Wegner | Go to book overview

Can the Kerner Commission's Housing Strategy Improve Employment, Education, and Social Integration for Low-Income Blacks?

James E. Rosenbaum Nancy Fishman Alison Brett Patricia Meaden

The Kerner Commission placed a heavy emphasis on racial integration, calling it "the only course which explicitly seeks to achieve a single nation rather than accepting the present movement toward a dual society." 1 And, as the introductory essay to this volume indicates, "only in the area of housing did the commission prescribe solutions tailored to address the urban/suburban racial segregation central to its analysis of the underlying problem." 2 Calling for the elimination of "the racial barrier in housing," the commission stated, "Residential segregation prevents equal access to employment opportunities and obstructs efforts to achieve integrated education. A single society cannot be achieved so long as this cornerstone of segregation stands."3

But were these hopes for integration, expressed twenty-five years ago, actually workable? Were they attainable? Does residential integration lead to employment gains, educational gains, and social integration? Given the persistence of de facto racial segregation in this country, our ability to address these questions and assess the Kerner Commission's aspirations for this strategy has been limited. In this essay, we attempt to overcome this limitation by examining evidence from ten years of research on a program that in many ways embodies the approach advocated by the commission: Chicago's Gautreaux Program. Gautreaux gives low-income blacks housing vouchers to move to many different kinds of communities including white middle-income suburbs and low-income black city neighborhoods. This essay reports the program's impact on the employment of participating adults and on the education, employment, and social integration of their children.

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