Report Suggests 'End Of The Segregated Century' The Manhattan Institute reports that U.S. metropolitan areas are now more integrated than any time since 1910. The migration of African Americans to the South, gentrification and immigration have all contributed to the shift. Yet some argue the decline of segregation does not mean racial inequality is obsolete.

Report Suggests 'End Of The Segregated Century'

Report Suggests 'End Of The Segregated Century'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Manhattan Institute reports that U.S. metropolitan areas are now more integrated than any time since 1910. The migration of African Americans to the South, gentrification and immigration have all contributed to the shift. Yet some argue the decline of segregation does not mean racial inequality is obsolete.


Jacob Vigdor, adjunct fellow, Manhattan Institute
Sheryll Cashin, professor of law, Georgetown University


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. The civil rights movement established segregation as a social sin, but progress has been slow in the decades since. Now a report released this week by the Manhattan Institute finds a widespread decline. Metropolitan areas are more integrated now than they have been since 1910. All-white neighborhoods are nearly extinct. Gentrification and immigration have helped shrivel inner-city ghettos, and many African-Americans have moved to the Sun Belt, the most-integrated communities in the country. Critics note the numbers, but argue there's still a long way to go.

Tell us the story of how your neighborhood has changed. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program: What did you learn from Don Cornelius and "Soul Train"? You can send us an email now. The address, again, is But first, Jacob Vigdor joins us from the studios on the campus at Duke University, where he's an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He coauthored the report "The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America's Neighborhood, 1890-2010."

And nice to have you with us today.

JACOB VIGDOR: Well, thanks, Neal. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And the end of the segregated century?

VIGDOR: Well, the segregated century is a term of art that I kind of made up to refer to the period between 1910 and 2010, because I think that when historians write the history of this period long in the future, they'll see 1910 and 2010 as sort of bookends of a period where segregation rose dramatically, and then segregation reversed. And integration happened to the extent that all those increases disappeared.

CONAN: Well, what has happened - you're obviously working off the census figures from 2010. Correct?

VIGDOR: That's correct. That's correct. So this is an extension of a project that Professor Glaeser at Harvard - my coauthor, Edward Glaeser - and I have been working on since the mid-'90s to track segregation metro area by metro area in the United States since 1890. The 2010 census figures enable us to continue this time series forward.

CONAN: And you say - one of the conclusions is, for example, the all-white neighborhood is virtually extinct.

VIGDOR: That's right. If you go back to 1960, it's about 20 percent of all neighborhoods that the census counted had exactly zero African-American residents. And today, that is down to one in 200. Or that's one half of 1 percent. So there are still a few out there, but you have to search pretty hard to find them.

CONAN: And also that inner-city ghettos are shriveling, yet clearly, they still exist.

VIGDOR: That's one of the interesting things about this report. There are still segregated neighborhoods out there. If you talk about the South Side of Chicago, if you talk about Detroit, the key to remember is that these cities have been declining in population. So there are segregated places, but fewer and fewer segregated people.

CONAN: And the - one of the big changes has clearly been suburbanization.

VIGDOR: That's correct. And that's a big part of the story. And the two facts that you brought up - the near-disappearance of all-white neighborhoods and the movement out of segregated inner-city neighborhoods - suburbanization by African-Americans is what explains both the phenomena.

CONAN: Where 60, 70 years ago, a - one black family moving into a white neighborhood had the effect of triggering the phenomenon we called white flight. Has that phenomenon disappeared?

VIGDOR: The phenomenon of white flight, you have to understand, is a phenomenon that's really rooted in an era where black migration from the rural South to cities was rampant. That era came to an end around 1965. Since that era, this phenomenon of tipping and blockbusting that you hear talked about in discussions of the pre-civil rights era, it's much less common. The - I'm sorry. The integration that we're seeing in suburban neighborhoods looks much more stable than patterns that we would have seen a half-century ago.

CONAN: And we're talking about African-Americans and white Americans. But clearly, Asian-Americans and Hispanic-Americans are part of this conversation, too.

VIGDOR: That's something that's changed dramatically over the period that we've been looking at, 1890 to the present. The United States is not a biracial country anymore. And what's interesting is that the new ethnic groups - Latinos, Asians - you find them in - moving into neighborhoods that had been white. You find them moving into neighborhoods that had been black. And so that's really diversifying all parts of the country.

CONAN: And we want to get callers in on the conversation. We also have another guest, Sheryll Cashin, a professor of law at Georgetown University. We want to get her into the conversation, too. But I have to ask you: What happened - your study from 1890 to 2010. What happened between 1890 and 1910? What was the advent of this segregation that you're talking about?

VIGDOR: Well, if you think back a century ago, the African-American population was still concentrated in the rural South. So there were just not very many back residents of many of these cities. And those blacks that lived in the cities were actually kind of integrated. Sometimes they were living with Italian immigrants or other ethnic groups like that. It's really the - what historians would call the Great Migration, that started around 1920, that brought African-Americans out of the rural South and into cities that created the birth of what we would call the ghetto.

CONAN: And what happened, do you think, in the last 30, 40, 50 years, to see this precipitous decline?

VIGDOR: Well, if you look at where the turning point was, the turning point was right around 1970. We had the Fair Housing Act in 1968. We had other legislative and policy changes that really made housing market discrimination illegal and stopped discriminatory practices. And so I think we are seeing the legacy of those changes.

CONAN: As we mentioned, Sheryll Cashin is with us, a professor of law at Georgetown University, author of "The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream." She's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in.

SHERYLL CASHIN: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And I assume you've seen the same figures that Jacob Vigdor has.

CASHIN: Yes. I read the study very carefully.

CONAN: And what's your conclusion?

CASHIN: I don't disagree with the data. I disagree with the interpretation of the data. The language of the end of segregation or the end the segregated century, I think, is highly misleading. What the data shows is we've gone from being an extremely segregated country, where mid-century, eight out of 10 blacks would have to move to be integrated, to now only five out of 10 blacks would have to be moved. I think the numbers show that we are - have gone from being very segregated to segregated, or moderately segregated. You know, half of black people, mid-century, lived in ghettos. Now one in five do.

But there's still a lot of segregation in American society. I would still say it's a segregated society, and segregation continues to structure opportunity in this country, and it continues affect race relations. One of the things that I think the study does not account for is the lives of children. Children live more segregated - live more segregated than adults do, and particularly children in public schools. While we've had this - you know, laudatory, modest decline every decade in segregation in neighborhoods since 1970, since 1980, our schools have been increasing in segregation. And now children in public schools are more segregated than they have been in a very long time.

I looked at a study today from three researchers at Northeastern University. They looked at school districts in the top 100 metropolitan areas. And the picture they paint is one of separate, but equal - unequal. A black and Latino child in public school today, their average existence is one where a majority of peers are minority and many of their peers are poor. Forty-three percent of black and Latino children go to schools where 80 percent of their peers are poor, compared to only 4 percent of whites. So we still have a lot of segregation in society.

CONAN: Jacob Vigdor, is this a question of glass half full or glass half empty?

VIGDOR: As a matter of fact, I didn't hear any statements there that I really disagree with. There's something important that you have to think about in regards to schools. I think segregation in schools is an important issue. At the same time neighborhoods are integrating, school districts have reduced their effort in terms of busing for integration, and they've been spurred on in large part by the courts.

You may recall from a few years ago, the Supreme Court issued rulings with regard to the school districts in Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington, basically forbidding them for busing to achieve racial balance. And so you see this increase in neighborhood segregation that's not matched - I'm sorry, an increase in neighborhood integration that's not accompanied by an increase in school integration, and it's because of these countervailing movements that are driven by court decisions.

And, you know, there are a lot of problems with high-poverty schools. And, you know, I've done some work on this myself with Jens Ludwig at the University of Chicago and where - you know, I think that those are the - these are all important things to keep in mind.

CONAN: But we should not - I'm sorry, go ahead, Sheryll Cashin.

CASHIN: Well, I'd also say there's still a lot of problems with high poverty in highly segregated neighborhoods. You admit in your study that the number of census tracks that you would characterize as a ghetto hasn't changed that much. It's just that they've been depopulated, but still one in five black people live in what you would describe as ghetto neighborhoods.

And I'd venture to say that to live in a ghetto today, in 2012, is very different than what it was like in 1970. These are alternative universes where the prison system plays a more dominate life - role in the life of young black men. Some neighborhoods, four out of five young black boys can expect to be caught up in the prison system.

These are places where anybody who can leave have left, and frankly, the persistence of the ghetto, I think this is one of the last vestiges of Jim Crow, the persistence of the ghetto and the system of mass black incarceration that's grown up - I mean, since 1970 we have created this system of mass incarceration. That's a form of segregation in itself.

It heavily colors race relations. I mean, if we're honest about it, we all carry stereotypes in our heads, and there are psychology studies that show it, where, you know, we heavily associate black with crime, particularly black boys and men, and this is part of the reason why it becomes very difficult to get political will to support the kind of policies that will create more inclusion in neighborhoods and schools.

CONAN: Jacob Vigdor, those prison numbers are beginning to come down for any number of reasons, but they are accurate, too.

VIGDOR: That's true. You know, I got into this business of studying segregation in part because I was motivated by this concern that being segregated into neighborhoods affects your life chances in some way that goes beyond schools.

But what really opened my eyes quite a bit was some research that's come out of a number of universities since the mid-1990s concerning an experiment that the Department of Housing and Urban Development did in the 1990s called the Moving to Opportunity experiment where they gave a randomly selected group of residents of high-poverty housing projects vouchers to move into low-poverty neighborhoods.

What the evaluations of these programs have shown over and over again is that when you move these residents out of the ghetto, their outcomes don't necessarily change. And so that changed my mind about this issue.

CONAN: Jacob Vigdor of the Manhattan Institute, Sheryll Cashin, author of "The Failures of Integration," are our guests. We're talking about a new report issued by the Manhattan Institute, "The End of the Segregated Century." We want to hear from you. Tell us the story about how your neighborhood had changed. 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Social scientist Robert Putnam, well-known for his research on civic engagement and communities, the "Bowling Alone" author, found Americans tend to bond with people very much like themselves in terms of age, race, religion and more, which can be bad news in diverse neighborhoods.

ROBERT PUTNAM: What we discovered in this research, somewhat to our surprise, was that in the short run, the more ethnically diverse the neighborhood you live in, the more you, all of us, tend to hunker down, to pull in. The more diverse - and when I saw all of us, I mean all of us, I mean blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos, all of us, - the more diverse the group around us, ethnically, our neighborhood, the less we trust anybody, including people who look like us.

Whites trust whites less. Blacks trust blacks less in more diverse settings.

CONAN: And now a new report from the Manhattan Institute, working on analysis of 2010 census data, says diverse neighborhoods are more and more the norm in the U.S. So we want to hear from you. Tell us the story of how your neighborhood has changed, 800-989-8255. Email You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Jacob Vigdor, one of the authors of the report from the Manhattan Institute, is with us from Duke University. Also with us here in Studio 3A, Georgetown law professor Sheryll Cashin. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line, and we'll start with Jay, and Jay's on the line with us from Jacksonville.

JAY: Good afternoon. I've seen my neighborhood change. It was predominately African-American when I moved in and more whites and other races have moved in over the last about decade or so. And some things have improved, and some things have remained the same.

I would say overall that you can't just look at where people live as an indication of the effects of integration, that most of the statistics about African-Americans lagging behind in education, wealth and social mobility have remained unchanged and are in fact even becoming worse at this point.

So the goal of integration wasn't to make a society where you can live anywhere, predominately. The real goal was to create a society in which all people can achieve their goals, and we haven't gotten there yet.

CONAN: Well, I'd say that was one of the goals, but equal opportunity, of course, the overarching goal, as well. But I wanted to ask you about that, Jacob Vigdor. We keep seeing statistics on the - amidst this housing crisis, the gap between black homeownership and white homeownership growing ever, ever larger.

VIGDOR: Well, I think that it's important to think a lot about racial inequality. I wrote a book chapter a few years ago called "The Perplexing Persistence of Race." And the point of it was to illustrate how we made what we thought were a lot of advances in the civil rights era, the Fair Housing Act, equal employment legislation, and yet somehow in the wake of all those good movements in the 1960s, black-white disparities - now, it's not just homeownership, but it's unemployment rates, it's income, it's wealth - they have persisted.

And I think that one of the things that comes out very clearly is that - the caller is absolutely right that it's not about segregation. So we can make segregation go away to some extent, but you can't expect that to just sort of magically make all forms of racial inequality go away. The inequality is still there. It is a more complicated problem than we might have thought it was back when we were passing this legislation.

CONAN: Jay, would you say your neighborhood had changed as a result of the process we sometimes call gentrification? I think Jay has left us, and we thank him for his phone call. And that has been, Sheryll Cashin, one of the engines that is driving change in many African-American communities where they're becoming integrated because, well, to some degree blacks would say they are being driven out.

CASHIN: Well, I'm not sure about that. I'd actually like to take up Jay's point about whether policies to support desegregation matter or not or whether segregation matters. I think one of the hopeful things that comes out of this study is that policy choices do matter. The study acknowledges that decades of intentional segregative policies created segregation, and reforms to undo that helped to bring segregation down.

And I would beg to differ. I think the phalanx of policies we got from the civil rights movement, including the Fair Housing Act, created a lot of freedom and mobility, mobility that my parents didn't have, and it helped to create the black middle class.

In 1950, 72 percent of African-Americans lived below the poverty line. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act helped create a black middle class. Yes, there's persistence in inequality, but I can point to a number of policies that continue to have discriminatory effects, including racially targeting of predatory lending that helped create or exacerbate the wealth gap between blacks and Latinos.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Michael, Michael calling from San Antonio.

MICHAEL: Yes, when I was young, we were the first African-American family on our street, and I guess we experienced white flight. Whites moved out, and more African-Americans moved into the neighborhood until it was very diverse. And then some of the whites that were in the neighborhood never moved out and are still, in fact, in the neighborhood, some very elderly people.

But I think that one of the thing that is being missed in this argument concerning the benefits of desegregation is the fact that the cultural atmosphere has changed so broadly in the United States and has been a helpful impetus to what was going on in civil rights in the courts.

Give you an example, well, first of all, I think it was Thurgood Marshall who originally said, well, we lost as much with integration as we gained. But later on, what happened was as we moved further and further away from white male-dominated society, and I'm not trying to disrespect anybody when I say that, but the fact is that young white males said, hey, we're not following this government just because you say we need to go to Vietnam.

White females say you know what? I'm going to burn my bra because I'm not going to be anybody's subject. African-Americans, of course we know what was going on there. So we had this cultural upheaval against all of those things that really helped to enforce segregation in the society, and as those things have slowly begun to slip away, we've seen a more integrated society.

Now of course there's still more work to be done, and in this regard, you know, I still haven't heard a politician say that what we need to do is lower all the tax rates in all the ghettos so that we can encourage more businesses to start moving in there and employing people, so - which would probably be a great impetus to help the wage, you know, the...

CONAN: I actually remember Jack Kemp talking about that, enterprise zones. That was quite some time ago. But it's interesting, Jacob Vigdor, you find that communities like San Antonio, a city that is exploding in population, that those Sunbelt cities are in fact the most integrated communities in our society.

VIGDOR: San Antonio is one of the 10 largest cities in the United States. I've just recently looked up that information, and I was kind of surprised, but it's really true. And this phenomenon that Michael in San Antonio describes, of black families moving in but then the neighborhood not quite tipping all the way, I think that's something that we really saw in large measure starting with data in the 1970s and going forward.

And what Michael was talking about in terms of this cultural shift, that's a big part of it, that racial animosity, it's not gone. It's certainly not gone. But it's not the same as it was 50 years ago, and that's a big part of it. You know, the general social survey has been collecting information from adults for a very long time, asking them questions such as would you have a person of a different race over to dinner.

And you can see the change in attitudes that way and the trends in that over time.

CONAN: Sheryll Cashin?

CASHIN: I would agree with that. I mean, one of the most hopeful things I take from this study and what's new and really interesting is the decline of all-white spaces. The Latino population grew at 40 times the rate of growth of the white population in the last decade. It is increasingly difficult for anybody to avoid having encounters with people who are different racially or ethnically.

And what's happening, I think, in a lot of metropolitan areas and what I hope will continue to happen is a rise in what I call cultural dexterity, the comfort of people being around people who are different. And my hope is that as this rise in cultural dexterity continues, we will be able to create a multiracial coalition to support saner public policies that give everybody, particularly struggling middle-class people, more choices in housing and schooling.

And I think integration will help with that.

CONAN: Let's go next to Ellen, Ellen on the line with us from Milwaukee.

ELLEN: Well, I'm sorry to tell you that it's really bad here. I've been living here for 70 years, and, well, the only reason I didn't live in Milwaukee for a while was because I lived in a little place called Town of Lake, which was annexed and became the city of Milwaukee. So I've been in this neighborhood all of my life, and we do have a terrible inner-city problem. And I think the last recording was that 50 percent of black men in the city of Milwaukee are unemployed.

Manufacturing has left the inner city. There's - these young black men are being targeted, I'm positive, by our police force. I'm sure that they're doing as much - white kids in the suburbs are doing as many drugs as the black kids in Milwaukee, but the black kids in Milwaukee are the ones that are going to jail. And we have - even have a governor now that is trying to put into place the fact that people with a - black men with a felony - or any man with a felony, I guess, but they are mostly black - can't even be hired into the government.

CONAN: Into a government job is, I think, what you're talking about.

ELLEN: Exactly. Exactly.

CONAN: And - but following up on her point, Jacob...

ELLEN: Maybe even being a janitor in a school.

CONAN: Jacob Vigdor, the places that have changed least, you found, were in the North, places, well, I guess, like Milwaukee.

VIGDOR: Yeah. It's very interesting. We've had three callers so far, two from the Sun Belt - Jacksonville, San Antonio - and Milwaukee. I'll tell you, Milwaukee is a place I spent a lot of time. My mom lives there. I have a 91-year-old grandmother who lives in West Allis. And that's a place where I was a kid growing up where I sort of learned about segregation because it is one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

And the fact that segregation hasn't changed much there, one thing that we've learned is that the places where segregation is happening are places that have undergone a lot of population growth. Milwaukee has not really experienced that. It is in the new neighborhoods, the neighborhoods that are rising out of the fields, on the outskirts of Sun Belt cities - where you see integration happening the most. The neighborhoods that don't have a history behind them, that's where you see an integrated group of residents coming in and creating a new history.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Ellen.

ELLEN: You're welcome.

CONAN: We're talking with Jacob Vigdor of the Manhattan Institute, co-author of a new report titled "The End of the Segregated Century: Racial Separation in America's Neighborhood, 1890-2010." Also with us, Sheryll Cashin, professor of law at Georgetown University, author of "The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an email from Tom in Charlotte: At my church, which is an intentionally integrated church led by a black and white pastor, we've been wrestling with this. But the church, in trying to take the long view, recently the pastor said, maybe we're building the church our sons will someday lead.

And, Sheryll Cashin, it's been described as the most segregated hour in America, that Sunday morning.

CASHIN: Yeah, well, I go to a black Baptist church in Washington, D.C. But where people choose to worship God, I think, is less important than whether or not we are going to pursue public policies that encourage rather than discourage race and class inclusion. And this becomes extremely important as we rapidly diversify.

CASHIN: To go back to one of the things that the previous caller from Milwaukee said, the reality she describes about what it's like to be a black male in a high-poverty inner-city neighborhood is not related solely to Milwaukee. Wherever ghetto census tracts exist and they continue to persist, you have this alternative reality I talked about.

And the thing she describes are described very well in this book, "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. While it is wonderful that in American society there's a lot more freedom and markets to live where you want to if you can afford it, we still have created this alternative universe of mass incarceration. And the people who are left behind in a relatively small percentage of ghetto census tracts do face incredible difficulty in terms of participating in the American mainstream.

And if your callers hear nothing else I say. I want to underscore that segregation in American society harms everybody, not just ghetto residents. It harms everybody. The vast majority of struggling middle-class white people are trying to figure out where to live. It's only the 7 percent of Americans who can buy their way into what I call gold standard, high-opportunity neighborhoods that happen to be overwhelmingly white.

They're the only ones who are truly living the American dream, where they get high-quality public schools, very little poverty, low taxes, low crime. Everybody else gets a different deal. And if we pursued policies like inclusionary zoning and...

CONAN: I just wanted to give...

CASHIN: Right.

CONAN: ...Jacob Vigdor a chance to respond.


CONAN: As you look ahead to the future, do you see this kind of rapid progress that would shrivel those pockets of ghetto neighborhoods and inner cities down to, well, much smaller than they are now?

VIGDOR: Yeah. You know, one of the things that you learn when you look over this much history of segregation in the United States is that history matters. And we've seen it all over the country where we've analyzed the data.

When neighborhoods are established as black neighborhoods - and we're talking about neighborhoods now that were largely established between, say, 1920 and 1965 - you don't see much movement into those neighborhoods on the part of people of other races. Maybe you see a little bit of immigration here, a little bit of gentrification there, but, for the most part, these neighborhoods are not changing very much. And that's something that's come up already today. They are sort of depopulating.

And so that's - it's hard to forecast a lot of change happening there in the future because we haven't seen much change there over the past 40 years. This kind of change that's easier to point to and anticipate will be the change that we've already seen in terms of the movements towards more newly-constructed integrated neighborhoods.

CONAN: Jacob Vigdor, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

VIGDOR: Oh, you're welcome. It's a pleasure to be here, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics at Duke and co-author of "The End of the Segregated Century." Our thanks as well to Sheryll Cashin, who joined us here in Studio 3A, professor of law at Georgetown, author of "The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream." Thanks very much for your time.

CASHIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Coming up, we're going to be talking about the late Don Cornelius. We got this email from Greg in Charlottesville, Virginia: Growing up watching "Soul Train," and Don Cornelius taught me two things. One, there is no such things as a bellbottom that's too wide or a platform shoe that's too high. Two, the "Soul Train" dance line features the coolest cats on the planet, hands down. We would like to hear what you learned from Don Cornelius. 800-989-8255. Email us: Stay with us. Shabba Doo will join us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.