Income: The New Segregation

November 26, 2013

Income is the new boundary line in U.S. neighborhoods, but money is not the answer, says Kevin D. Williamson, a roving correspondent for National Review.

If you divided American families into six graduated income groups -- poor, low-income, lower-middle, upper-middle, high-income and affluent -- and took a trip in time back to the Age of Disco, you'd find that nearly two-thirds of all American families lived in neighborhoods with median incomes in the middle two groups: lower-middle and upper-middle. Return to the present day and you'll find that fewer than half of American families live in middle-income neighborhoods.

Those are the findings of Kendra Bischoff of Cornell University and Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University in their recent study "Residential Segregation by Income, 1970-2009," published by the Russell Sage Foundation. The results, if not exactly surprising, are nonetheless troubling.

  • Neighborhoods marked by a mix of residents in the fat middle of the economic bell curve are growing proportionally smaller, while both high-income and low-income neighborhoods grow proportionally more populous.
  • The consequences of income segregation are likely to be felt most strongly by children.

While the research is mixed on how great an impact things like school funding and peer-group composition have on long-term outcomes for children, it seems likely that the effects of these factors is large, at least for some significant group of children, namely potential high-performers who may not develop their talents and interests unless and until they discover the right opportunities. The most important social habits are learned, but they are not taught; children pick them up from those around them, the same way they pick up language.

Source: Kevin D. Williamson, "The New Segregation," National Review, November 11, 2013. Sean F. Reardon and Kendra Bischoff, "New U.S. 2010 Report: Residential Income Segregation in America," November 16, 2011.

 

Browse more articles on Economic Issues