The tipping point, Card and his collaborators note, has been slowly but steadily rising, from an 11.9 percent minority share in the period from 1970-80, to 13.5 percent in 1980-90, to 14.5 percent in 1990-2000.I have known about the tipping point for some time, but didn't know that the tipping point was so low. Despite some level of optimism expressed in this piece herein, these numbers still speak volumes about race relations in the U.S. and specifically, how race and class combine in pernicious ways to limit educational opportunity, in particular, for our youth.
Based on research by Gary Orfield and Erica Frankenberg, with Jongyeon Ee and Jo Kuscera, integration of the nation’s public schools has largely been on a downward path. Its high point was 1988 when:
43.5 percent of black students attended majority white schools. By 2011, the percentage had fallen to 23.2.As this piece states, affordable housing in middle class communities is an important policy goal. However, as covered in this piece below, such remedies are not without their challenges. As is the case with most challenges, we need good minority representation at all levels. Poor people need to not only vote, but they also need to vote their interests, including the kind of representation that advocates for affordable housing in middle class neighborhoods. In tandem with this, our communities need to continue to advocate for a living wage, quality schools, low-interest debt funds for minority communities to start and expand non-profits. Opportunities to establish cooperatives and small businesses are also necessary.
On June 25, 1974, suburban residents of Detroit won their four-year battle to overturn court-ordered busing of black city students across county lines into their schools.
In a key 5-4 Supreme Court decision, Milliken v. Bradley, Chief Justice Warren Burger declared that 41 white suburban governments had not committed “significant violations” of the Constitution.
No single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control over the operation of public schools; local autonomy has long been thought essential both to the maintenance of community concern and support for public schools and to quality of the educational process.
The victory in Milliken was based on the assumption that African-Americans would be bused in, not that they would be living next door. What was not anticipated was a black exodus from Detroit as African-Americans capitalized on new housing laws to move away from the decaying city. The white response to this migration? Flight from inner-ring suburbs.
Southfield, Mich., for example, which had been 0.7 percent black in 1970, by 2010 had become 70.3 percent black, and its schools nearly 95 percent black. Over the same time period, Ecorse, a suburb southwest of Detroit, went from 0.4 percent black to 44.5 percent, and its school system to 72 percent black; Oak Park from 0.6 to 57.4, and its school system to 95 percent black; Harper Woods from 0.3 to 45.6, and its school system to 88 percent black.
“In Milliken, the Supreme Court had in effect told whites that it was safe to flee and that it would protect them,” Myron Orfield, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, writes in a 2015 U.C.L.A. law review article. Since then, however, many of “these communities have faced a wave of migrants from neighborhoods far more troubled than they were in 1972, a wave that will grow as Detroit continues to depopulate.”
These suburban Detroit communities provide a case study in what has come to be called the “tipping point,” the point at which whites begin to leave a residential locale en masse as African-Americans or other minorities move in.
This phenomenon puzzled Thomas Schelling, a professor emeritus of economics at Harvard and a Nobel Laureate, who was struck by the lack of stable integrated communities. In 1971, he began work on a mathematical theory to explain the prevalence of racial segregation in a paper titled “Dynamic Models of Segregation,” published in the Journal of Mathematical Sociology.
Schelling’s famous thesis has been carefully summarized by Junfu Zhang, an economist at Clark University. Zhang writes:
Schelling’s most striking finding is that moderate preferences for same-color neighbors at the individual level can be amplified into complete residential segregation at the macro level. For example, if every agent requires at least half of her neighbors to be of the same color―a preference far from extreme―the final outcome, after a series of moves, is almost always complete segregation.
In other words, residential segregation can emerge even if initial preferences are very slight.
According to Schelling, Zhang writes,
in an all-white neighborhood, some residents may be willing to tolerate a maximum of 5 percent black neighbors; others may tolerate 10 percent, 20 percent, and so on.
The ones with the lowest tolerance level will move out if the proportion of black residents exceeds 5 percent. If only blacks move in to fill the vacancies after the whites move out, then the proportion of blacks in the neighborhood may reach a level high enough to trigger the move-out of the next group of whites who are only slightly more tolerant than the early movers. This process may continue and eventually result in an all-black neighborhood.
Similarly, an all-black neighborhood may be tipped into an all-white neighborhood, and a mixed-race neighborhood can be tipped into a highly segregated one, depending on the tolerance.
In the years since 1971, scholars have followed up on the Schelling argument with empirical studies.
David Card, a Berkeley economist, working with Alexandre Mas and Jesse Rothstein, both Princeton economists, studied neighborhood change from 1970 to 2000, and found:
Most major metropolitan areas are characterized by a city-specific ‘tipping point,’ a level of the minority share in a neighborhood that once exceeded sets off a rapid exodus of the white population.
The tipping point, Card and his collaborators note, has been slowly but steadily rising, from an 11.9 percent minority share in the period from 1970-80, to 13.5 percent in 1980-90, to 14.5 percent in 1990-2000.
A tipping point in the 13 to 15 percent range means that “a neighborhood can remain stable with a moderate minority share,” according to Card. He and his coauthors conclude “that tipping points are semi-stable, and that neighborhoods can retain an integrated character so long as they remain below the tipping point.”
Neither Schelling nor Card addresses the specific question of integrating poor African-Americans into middle class, majority white neighborhoods.
The percentage of people living in neighborhoods of high concentrated poverty — census tracts where the federal poverty rate is 40 percent or more — has been growing steadily over the past two decades. Moving the poorest residents out of such neighborhoods would involve finding homes for nearly 13.8 million people.
“We are witnessing a nationwide return of concentrated poverty that is racial in nature,” writes Paul A. Jargowsky, a fellow at the Century Foundation, in his Aug. 11 essay “Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy.”
There is wide agreement among scholars that these neighborhoods are harmful to the children who live in them, who suffer disproportionately from impaired cognitive abilities, increased behavioral problems and fragile family structures. In August, Margery Austin Turner, a scholar at the Urban Institute, summarized the problem this way:
Young people from high-poverty neighborhoods are less successful in school than their counterparts from more affluent communities; they earn lower grades, are more likely to drop out, and are less likely to go on to college. Neighborhood environments influence teens’ sexual activity and the likelihood that girls will become pregnant as teenagers. And living in disadvantaged neighborhoods significantly increases the risk of disease and mortality among both children and adults.
Who actually lives in very poor neighborhoods? According to the Century Foundation, 25.2 percent of African-Americans, 17.4 of Hispanics and 7.5 percent of whites.
Black children under the age of 6 are the likeliest to live in high-poverty neighborhoods; 28 percent of African-American children of that age live in them.
At the same time, the evidence of the benefits to children of living in better-off (low poverty) neighborhoods is growing, according to the latest findings from the Moving to Opportunity experimental project.
These benefits — in improved school performance for poor black children, higher college attendance rates, increased marriage rates and greater future annual income — have put liberal advocates of integration on a political collision course with white communities with their own anxieties about tipping points.
In the case of white suburban Detroit, Orfield, of the University of Minnesota, points out that just
as racial integration was temporary in Detroit neighborhoods, so it appears to be in its suburbs. Half of the suburbs that were racially diverse in 2000 had become predominantly nonwhite in 2010, and most of the integrated suburbs in 2010 were in the process of resegregation.
In other words, in the case of the Detroit metropolitan area, moving poor children out of high-poverty communities into less poor sections that are themselves on a path to greater poverty is at best a stopgap measure.
“Our highly dispersed and profoundly unequal distribution of housing is not inevitable,” Jargowsky of the Century Foundation writes. He argues that there are two major changes “that need to occur,” both “simple to state, but hard to bring about.”
“First, the federal and state governments must begin to control suburban development,” Jargowsky argues, in order to prevent excessive construction that leads to accelerated abandonment of existing housing:
New housing construction must be roughly in line with metropolitan population growth. Second, every city and town in a metropolitan area should be required to ensure that the new housing built reflects the income distribution of the metropolitan area as a whole.
These two policy initiatives, along with others requiring aggressive intervention, are hard to bring about in the absence of a national consensus. Without concerted action, the more likely prospect is the continued growth of neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.
The reality is that integration of the nation’s public schools – despite notable if modest successes with elite exam schools — has been on a steady downward path since 1988, the high point. That year, 43.5 percent of black students attended majority white schools. By 2011, the percentage had fallen to 23.2.
In the case of residential segregation, Daniel T. Lichter, director of the Cornell Population Center, writing in the American Sociological Review with Domenico Parisi and Michael C. Taquino, sociologists at Mississippi State University, provides evidence that segregation is growing “between places: city-to-suburb segregation and suburb to suburb.” Ferguson, Mo., Lichter said in a phone interview, “is illustrative of the new place-based segregation, where some communities are becoming more diverse (black, Asian or Hispanic), in part because whites are moving farther out into white suburbs or moving back to the city.”
William Frey, a Brookings demographer, does not dispute Lichter, but argues that when you look at census data at the neighborhood level – as opposed to data at the level of city and county jurisdictions — there is actually a trend toward lessened segregation:
The average white person today lives in a neighborhood that includes more minorities [27 percent] than was the case in 1980, when such neighborhoods were nearly 90 percent white. Moreover, each of the nation’s major minority groups lives in neighborhoods that are at least one-third white.
There may be a trend, then, toward a growing number of stable, middle class integrated communities. But that does not mean that these middle class communities will unambiguously open their doors to the minority poor.
Even residents of Marin County in California, a bastion of Democratic liberalism, have protested proposals to build affordable housing. In May 2014, the California Assembly passed legislation reducing the obligation of Marin County to build low- and moderate-income housing.
If Marin County – as one writer put it a couple of years ago, “the most beautiful, bucolic, privileged, liberal, hippie-dippie place on the earth” — is having a hard time accepting affordable housing, the path out of impoverished neighborhoods for substantial numbers of black children will be arduous.
Residential and public school integration remain an immense challenge. Affordable housing, one piece of the integrative process, got a boost from a favorable Supreme Court decision in June, Texas Department of Housing, that further empowers plaintiffs in housing discrimination cases. A second boost came from new HUD regulations issued in July requiring local governments “to take significant actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, achieve truly balanced and integrated living patterns, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities.”
Government action has often been resisted but, over time, it has pulled millions of blacks into the mainstream of American life. From 1940 to 2014, the percentage of African-Americans ages 25 to 29 with high school degrees rose from 6.9 percent to 91.9 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of blacks with college degrees grew from 1.4 percent to 22.4 percent. From 1963 (a year before enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) to 2015, the percentage of blacks employed in management, professional and related occupations more than tripled, from 8.7 percent to 29.5 percent.
Although progress toward racial and ethnic integration has been sporadic – frequently one step forward, two steps back – credible progress has been made over the last 75 years. We have not come to the end of the story, but there are grounds for optimism.