Housing segregation in the Chicago area continued its gradual decline between 2009 and 2016, a new study shows.
A study released Thursday by Apartment List, a website devoted to apartment listings, painted a picture of a metro area that remains significantly segregated but slowly is becoming less so. The study’s author, Apartment List housing economist Chris Salviati, found that by his study’s measurement, the Chicago area is the 13th most segregated metro area in the U.S.
The study also reported segregation indexes for different minority groups in the Chicago area, which are calculated as the percentage of a minority group that would need to move somewhere else for the distribution of minorities in a neighborhood to match that of the metro area as a whole. Apartment List calculated an overall segregation index that encompasses all minorities, as well as specific segregation indexes for individual minority groups.
The study found that the Chicago area’s overall segregation index fell by 3 percentage points between 2009 and 2016. In 2009, 56 percent of the area’s minorities would have had to move in order to achieve complete integration, the research showed, while that number had fallen to 53 percent in 2016.
That number is well below the country’s most segregated large city, Milwaukee, which in 2016 would have needed 61 percent of its minorities to move in order to achieve complete integration.
However, Chicago’s 2016 segregation index for African-Americans remains high, with 76 percent of the region’s African-Americans required to move to reach complete integration in 2016, the study shows. That was 2 percentage points less than 2009.
Similarly, 57 percent of the area’s Hispanics in 2009 would have had to move to achieve total integration. By 2016, the study shows, that figure stood at 55 percent.
University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor and former Ald. Dick Simpson noted that the 76 percent figure for African-Americans is 18 percentage points lower than the Chicago area’s segregation index for African-Americans in the 1970s.
However, Simpson also cautioned that some of the improvement in Chicago’s black segregation index has come as African-Americans have moved out of Chicago, including out of state.
Chicago Urban League Research and Policy Center Executive Director Stephanie Schmitz Bechteler noted that segregation remains today almost everywhere that saw an influx of African-Americans from the South during the Great Migration. And while she noted that the more obvious segregationist housing policies have been done away with in the 50 years since Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, “we still have other policies and practices that have happened since the 1970s that help to perpetuate segregation.”
“The loss of industry and jobs in Rust Belt cities — Chicago, most definitely included — really destabilized predominantly African-American communities,” she said. “Those were good jobs, hard-won jobs, and when that industry went away, it wasn’t really replaced for a very long time with other industries to fill the gap.”
Bechteler added that while decreases in the segregation index are positive steps, census-tract data indicate meaningful segregation in the Chicago area and a significant number of areas on the South and West sides that the Chicago Urban League defines as “racially concentrated areas of poverty.”
One question that the study did not answer, said UIC’s Great Cities Institute Senior Researcher James Lewis, is whether decreases in segregation are fueled by economic reasons “or for personal inclination.” Another question, he said, is whether currently observed integration is the result of migration processes. A segregation index is, by definition, a snapshot in time, and a community that, at one moment, is integrated actually may be in the process of undergoing a dramatic demographic shift.
“My assessment of the social environment is that it’s a very, very long, slow process, but that it is very, very gradually getting better,” he said.
Metropolitan Planning Council Director of Research and Evaluation Alden Loury offered a similar caveat to Lewis’, noting that “generally, when areas mix, they don’t really stay that way.” He also pointed to an analysis by his group last year that revealed that “Chicago’s decline in black-white segregation from 1990 to 2010 was really slow compared to large decreases happening in areas like metro Atlanta and a few others.”
“My question is, how long will this (segregation index decline) last, and will we see it stabilize. I think it’s a positive thing, and it’s one we shouldn’t turn our nose up at, but I also think it’s one that we should be cautiously optimistic about,” Loury said. “The segregation measures are great for us to get a broad picture of what is happening, but they also need to be looked at with a closer eye, to tell us what’s happening on the ground.”
Apartment List’s study also found that in Chicago neighborhoods where 75 percent or more of the population is nonwhite, the median income is 29 percent less than the entire region’s median income, but that the median rent in such neighborhoods is only 11 percent less than the Chicago area’s median rent.
“This is the housing affordability crisis that we’re most likely to see,” said Bechteler, who noted that the study’s results mirrored work that her group had done several years ago, showing a steadily increasing “renter burden” in racially concentrated areas of poverty. “Rents are relative to the community area, but then, so is the income of the residents.”
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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