Racial 'Neighborhood Gap' Fuels Social, Economic Inequality

Persistent and troubling patterns of racial segregation in U.S. communities are constraining upward mobility for black and Hispanic families, according to new research from the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study, published in the July issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, found that “Black and Hispanic children and families are doubly disadvantaged—both economically and contextually—relative to white and Asian families,” due to residential segregation and the racial and socioeconomic disparities that come as a result.

According to a press release, the research found that “black and Hispanic families effectively need much higher incomes than white families to live in comparably affluent neighborhoods.”

For example, the authors write that a black household with an annual income of $50,000 lives on average in a neighborhood where the median income is under $43,000. But whites with the same income live in neighborhoods where the median income is almost $53,000—about 25 percent higher.

Such disparities, the paper states, “produce inequality in social and economic opportunities and outcomes.”

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Writing at the New York Times, David Leonhardt calls it “the neighborhood gap.”

As the Washington Post explains, where you live matters “when it comes to raising children and building wealth. Other studies have found that growing up in very poor neighborhoods exposes children to bad influences and puts them at greater risk of not going to college, earning less in their careers, and being single parents.”

Sean Reardon, one of the study’s authors, told the Post: “When you look at the evidence of how important neighborhoods are, you really worry about the long-term consequences of these patterns of racial and economic segregation.”

Speaking to those consequences, the study reads: “The racial disparities in neighborhood income distributions are particularly troubling because these are differences that are present even among households with the same incomes. If long-term exposure to neighborhood poverty negatively affects child development, educational success, mental health, and adult earnings…then these large racial disparities in exposure to poverty may have long-term consequences.”

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