We’re Number Ten: Racial Segregation in LA

It may come as little surprise to many of you that Los Angeles is one of the ten most segregated large urban areas in the United States. With a segregation level of 67.84 (where “1” is the most integrated and “100” is the most segregated), LA is only marginally less segregated than the City of Brotherly Love which weighs in at 68.41 or Cincinatti at 69.42.

Map by John Paul DeWitt of CensusScope.org and U Michigan’s Social Science Data Analysis Network

St. Louis, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Milwaukee comprise the rest of the list. Interestingly, we are the only city in the top ten not on the east coast or in the midwest. As Salon notes, segregation may be regarded by many as part of southern history, but it’s seemingly part of northern contemporary reality. It’s worth noting that the segregation index seemingly tracks the black/white divide: “It reflects the number of people from one race — in this case black or white — who would have to move for races to be evenly distributed across a certain area. in a city.” Such a binary measure may not be adequate for any city, but particularly falls short to analyze Los Angeles, where less than 10% of the city identified as black in the last census. In fact, one thing that stands out when you click through the slide show of the ten cities is what a lovely sky blue color LA is relative to the dark blue of most of the other cities (blue being the color designating whites).

Interesting stuff in any case. The data come from a March Census Bureau release compiled by John Paul DeWitt of CensusScope.org and the University of Michigan’s Social Science Data Analysis Network–all of which was reported by Daniel Denvir on Salon. My personal hat tip, though, goes to my new favorite site I Love Charts.

6 thoughts on “We’re Number Ten: Racial Segregation in LA”

  1. This is interesting. The map just gives penetration of the majority, not the mix of the rest and we are an interesting mix if there ever was one. Never thought of us as segregated just some areas having a larger concentration of one group with the others still intermingled in.

  2. “Not evenly distributed” is not at all the same thing as what most people mean by “segregated.”

    ‘Segregation’ is when people aren’t allowed to choose to live where they want.

    Even when people are free to choose where to live, a lot of people prefer still to live near others of their own culture or ethnicity.

    Furthermore, US Census ethnicity categories don’t really capture LA’s diversity. I lived in an apartment complex in Sherman Oaks for 20 years that had a “white’ majority, but my white neighbors included Persians, Azerbaijanis, Russian Jews, Serbs, Armenians, Indians, and Pakistanis.

    At one point, my Other Half and I were the only white people in the building who were born in the US. (Though the one Hispanic family and one of the ‘Asian’ families were also native-born.)

    That never seemed very ‘segregated’ to me – but it would still show up on these measures as “mostly white.”

    But even given the limitations of Census categories, I think Eric Fischer’s Census-based Race and Ethnicity (2000) maps are a far more interesting look at the actual diversity of cities, because they don’t just map the dominant group in each area, but actually portray how intermingled all the groups are (or aren’t).

    Compare LA to almost any other big city in that map set, and you’ll see we’re one of the least segregated cities in the country. Many other large cities have large areas that are solidly one color or another – while we have very few such areas.

    A map that doesn’t distinguish between “85.1% one race” and “99.8% one race” doesn’t really tell you all that much about “segregation.”

    But, even so, look how very few areas on that map above are “85.1% or more” of any one race.

    That’s not ‘segregation.’

  3. A closer look at the Slate article and its linked sources reveals that – as is so often the case in the popular press – the measure used to create the ranking is not actually what the headline claims.

    It’s not a list of “the ten most segregated urban areas in America.” As it notes in the story’s closing paragraphs, It’s a list of “the ten Metropolitan Statistical Areas with populations over 500,000 with the highest Black/White ‘dissimilarity index.'”

    A ‘dissimilarity index’ according to their sources, is a comparison of two races or ethnic groups that measures what percentage of the dominant group would have to move to a different neighborhood in order for the two groups to be “evenly distributed.”

    If ‘evenly distributed’ means that the percentages of each group in each smaller area (neighborhoods? census blocks? individual census tracts?) matches the overall percentage in the MSA, then an area with, say, a 1% minority population will have a low dissimilarity index if most neighborhoods have a close-to-1% minority population.

    OTOH, a different area, with, say, a 20% minority population, will have a much higher dissimilarity index if its neighborhoods range from, say, 10% to 30%.

    But which one of those areas is really the “most segregated”?

    Indeed, it would seem that the ideal “least segregated” city, by that measure, would be one that has no minority population at all, and thus achieves perfectly ‘even’ distribution.

    It takes a certain sort of unrealistic ivory-tower mindset to imagine that anything short of a perfectly even distribution is deplorable ‘segregation.’

  4. And, finally, I have to say I’m a bit irritated at the text in the LA frame of the slideshow, which concludes with:

    “Safe in their cars and behind their gates, most white people have gone back to not paying attention.”

    So “most” white people here in LA live in gated communities, do they?

    Sounds like someone who hasn’t spent much time here has been reading too much Mike Davis.

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