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by Andrew Beveridge, Mar 01, 2002

For all its reputation for diversity and tolerance, New York City remains among the most segregated areas of the United States. The pattern of segregation was set in the city as far back as 1910, when one can already see the beginning of black settlement in Harlem, Southeast Queens andBedford-Stuyvesant. By 2000, these areas had become the centers of black population.

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The separation of the races is of course not legally enforced in the city and, unlike the South, it never was. Indeed, New York officially welcomed many new black residents during the ñGreat Migrationî from the South. In 1910, there were about 91,000 African-Americans in New York City, or about two percent of the population of the city. By 2000, the figure had risen to 2.1 million, or about 27 percent.

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But the metropolitan region of which New York City is a part is now the fourth most segregated in the United States, edging out Chicago. There are few signs that this will ever change.

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Measures of segregation were developed in the 1940's and 1950's to understand the concentration of blacks in the "slums and ghettos" of major cities including New York City. At first, segregation only concerned blacks and whites. The most popular measure of segregation for demographers (the Dissimilarity Index or D)is simply the proportion of either group (black or white) that must move to make the proportion of each group identical in every census tract. (There are about 4,000 people in every census tract. In the year 2000, the United States Bureau of the Census divided New York City into 2,217 tracts). If no one must move, there is perfect integration and the index value is 0.00. If all members of one group must move then the index value is 1.00, and the groups are completely segregated, with all the blacks in one set of tracts, and all the whites in another.

Today, the D index of black-white segregation in New York City is 0.75. In 1910, it was 0.64. In other words, the city is more segregated now than it was in 1910. Since 1930, though the black population has grown steadily, the D index has remained more or less the same -- at least 0.75 in every decade, and for two decades exceeding 0.80.

Some express surprise that with such a massive increase in the black population there seems to be so little change in the pattern of black-white segregation. Many whites notice that blacks now live in their neighborhoods. Yet there are census tracts in Middle Village in Queens and in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn where not a single black person resides.

Some things have changed. Demographers have developed two other measures of segregation, what we call exposure and isolation. If all the tracts in New York City were like the handful with no black people, the exposure measure would be 0.00 for whites,and the isolation measure would be 1.00.

In 1910 (see graphic), the exposure index for whites to blacks was about 0.02, while for blacks to whites it was about 0.82. In other words, for the average black person, about 82 percent of the residents in his or her census tract were white, while for the average white person only about two percent of the residents of his or her tract were black. The white isolation index was 0.98, while the black isolation index was 0.82. Blacks were much less isolated and more exposed to whites than whites were to blacks.

By 2000 (see graphic), white isolation and black isolation were just about the same, at 0.66 and 0.62 respectively. The exposure level of whites to blacks had grown to 0.10, while that of blacks to whites had dropped to 0.17. By 2000, whites had a few more blacks in their neighborhood, while blacks had many fewer whites in theirs.

During the 20th century, New York City developed a very deep-seated pattern of segregation of blacks from whites and whites from blacks. It continues into the 21st century.

Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. The opinions expressed are his alone.


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