Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Separate But Equal

New York City metro area
(Hat tip: SaraK) Slate has a really fascinating piece analyzing the census data which has come out for the United States, focusing especially on the de facto segregation that still exists today. The slideshow, which has mapped images of the top 10 most segregated cities, is really cool.

The most segregated are:
  1. Milwaukee
  2. New York
  3. Chicago
  4. Detroit
  5. Cleveland
  6. Buffalo
  7. St. Louis
  8. Cincinnati
  9. Philadelphia
  10. Los Angeles

I've lived in three of these cities, and can't say the results are too surprising. Milwaukee had a nice swath of white supremacists, but that alone obviously doesn't tell the story. (For instance, the Cleveland expert feels Cleveland's split demographic has more to do with people leaving Cleveland, period, than specifically leaving communities blacks are moving to.) One point that I think is interesting is that the cities which are heavily segregated all voted heavily for President Obama in the last election - and not just the urban sections of mostly minorities, but the suburban sections of whites as well. I recall having this discussion with people before, but New York City for example for all its supposed diversity simply isn't truly diverse at all - everyone lives in a community with "their people", not with one another.

I wonder if this segregation impacts how people approach government's intervention into various aspects of their lives. In integrated cities, people know one another and view each other as individuals, and feel that they all already have equal opportunities to succeed in life - it doesn't matter if you're black or white, Latino or Asian, it's about what you put into it (coupled with a fair amount of luck). In segregated cities, people view each other far more in a "group" context, and think that government intervention is the key to equal opportunity (or outcomes, anyway). Ironically, it is specifically those areas which pursue interventionist policies that end up segregating themselves further as those policies often keep people exactly where they are, whereas without such policies people are more likely to move and seek out better opportunities rather than stay to pick up various benefits.