Measuring Racism

Measuring Race

Civil Rights: Now and Then

The continuing disparity between black and white life chances is not a result of black life choices. It stems from an epidemic of racism and an economic system dependent on class division. Abundant scholarship notwithstanding, there is no other possible explanation. The breakdown of the family, the absence of middle-class values, the lack of education and skills, the absence of role models—these are symptoms of racism.

We must be careful not to define the ideology and practice of white supremacy too narrowly. It is greater than scrawled graffiti and individual indignity, such as the policeman’s nightstick, or the job, home, and education denied. It is rooted deeply in the logic of our market system and in the culturally defined and politically enforced prices paid for different units of labor.

The strategies of the 1960s movement were litigation, organization, mobilization and civil disobedience, aimed at creating a national political constituency for civil rights advances. In the 1970s, electoral strategies began to dominate, engendered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But as the numbers of locally elected black officials multiplied, political party organization declined and the crucial tasks of registering and turning out the newly enfranchised electorate were left to organizations like the NAACP.

Forgotten in the wave of inaugurations of new black mayors was the plight of blue collar blacks. Just as black workers gained access to industrial jobs, the jobs went offshore and President Nixon’s plan to promote black capitalism as a cure for underdeveloped ghettoes was embraced by a growing generation of politically-connected black entrepreneurs. Since then, too many have concentrated too much on enriching too few, while vast numbers of working class black Americans have seen their incomes shrink.

The right to decent work at decent pay remains as basic to human freedom as the right to vote. Martin Luther King, who lost his life supporting a garbage workers’ strike in Memphis, once said: “Negroes are almost entirely a working people. There are pitifully few Negro millionaires and few Negro employers.” [1]

That there are more black millionaires today is a tribute to the movement King led but the fact that proportionately fewer blacks are working today is an indictment of our economic system and a reflection of our failure to keep the movement going.

The Black Condition Today

Though times have changed, the conditions facing black Americans today are just as daunting as the fire hoses and billy clubs of four decades ago. You only have to compare the lives of black and white children. The average black child is:

  • one-and-a-half times more likely to grow up in a family whose head did not finish high school.
  • twice as likely to be born to a teenage mother and two-and-a-half times more likely to have low birthweight.
  • three times more likely to live in a single parent home.
  • four times more likely to have a mother who had no prenatal care.
  • four-and-a-half times more likely to live with neither parent.
  • five times as likely to depend solely on a mother’s earnings.
  • nine times as likely to be a victim of homicide.

In every way by which life is measured—life chances, life expectancy, median income—black Americans see a deep gulf between the American dream and the reality of their lives. The only effective tool for advancing entry into the mainstream of American life for the past 30 years has been affirmative action.

Opponents now try to tell us that it doesn’t work, or that it used to work but doesn’t anymore, or that it only helps people who don’t need it. They argue that the beneficiaries of race-centered affirmative action are “profiting” from it. There is never “profit” in receiving right treatment. Access to rights already enjoyed by others is no benefit but the natural order of things in a democratic society.

The Truth about Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is not about preferential treatment for blacks; it is about removing preferential treatment whites have received through history. Nor is it a poverty program and ought not be blamed for the problems it was not designed to solve.

In the late 1960s, the wages of black women in the textile industry tripled.[2] From 1970 to 1990, black police officers more than doubled, black electricians tripled and black bank tellers quadrupled in number. The percentage of blacks in managerial and technical jobs doubled. And the number of black college students increased from 330,000 in the 1960s to more than a million 18 years later.

These numbers represent the growth and spread of the tiny middle class I knew as a boy, into a stable, productive, and tax-paying group that makes up one-third of all black Americans. Without affirmative action, both white and blue collars around black necks would shrink, with a huge, depressive effect on the black population and the economy.

Those who argue for a return to a color-blind America that never was and justify their opposition to affirmative action as a desire for fairness and equality, are obviously blind to the consequences of being the wrong color in America today.

Affirmative action critics often quote Dr. King’s 1963 speech about his children one day being judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. But they never mention his 1967 speech in which he said: “…a society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him.”[3]

There is a tendency among black Americans to look back on the King years as if that was the only time in which we were truly able to overcome. But the movement was much more than Dr. King.

Martin Luther King did not march from Selma to Montgomery by himself nor did he speak into a void at the March on Washington. Thousands marched with him and thousands more did the dirty work that preceded that triumphant march.

Besides, black Americans didn’t just march into freedom. We worked our way into civil rights through the difficult business of organizing: knocking on doors, one by one; registering voters, one by one; building communities, block by block; financing the cause, dollar by dollar; and creating coalitions, one step at a time.

A Common Cause for All Colors

For too many people today, the fight for equal justice is a spectator sport: a kind of NBA game in which all the players are black and all the spectators, white. But in this true to life sport, the fate of the fans is closely intertwined with that of the players and points scored on the floor are points for all.

Because young black people faced arrest at Southern lunch counters 30 years ago, the law their bodies wrote now protects older Americans from age discrimination, Jews, Moslems, and Christians from religious discrimination, and the disabled from exclusion because of their condition.

It took but one woman’s courage to start a movement in Montgomery, and the bravery of four young men in Greensboro to set the South on fire. Surely there are men and women, young and old, who can do the same today.

African-Americans are no longer the nation’s largest minority. By the year 2050, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, together with African-Americans, will make up 50 percent of the population. Where there are others who share our condition, even if they do not share our history, we should make common cause with them. n


1. King, Dr. M.L. Jr.’s. Address to the Constitutional Convention, AFL-CIO, Bal Harbour, Florida, December 11, 1961.

2. Ezorsky, Gertrude, Racism and Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action, Cornell University Press, p 64, 1991.

3. King, Martin Luther, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York 1967.

Julian Bond is a distinguished professor in the School of Government at American University Washington, D.C. and a lecturer in history at the University of Virginia. He is also the Chairman of the Board of the NAACP. This article is based on a speech to the National Press Club. 


Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Related Stories: 

Race, Class, and Real Estate

Sheryll Cashin reads at Politics and Prose Bookstore, August 2008. © Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington D.C.

Housing or geography is at the core of the opportunity structure in America. Where you live largely defines what type of people you will be exposed to on a daily basis, and hence, who you have the opportunity to relate to. It defines what schools you will go to, what employers you will have access to, and whether you will be exposed to a host of models for success.

Since 1970, with each passing decade we have made glacially slow improvements in opening up housing markets and decreasing racial segregation. During this period we have also seen a marked increase in class segregation. In the 2000s, then, it remains the case that the neighborhood where you live is highly likely to reflect both your race and class.

Segregation and Separatism

In my book, The Failures of Integration, I identify three main factors that contribute to race and class segregation in United States housing markets: (1) the pull of personal preferences; (2) the push of discrimination; and (3) a host of public and private institutional policies that value homogeneity over inclusion.[1]

Although in opinion polls the majority of all races say they would prefer an integrated neighborhood, similar majorities also state a preference for living in a neighborhood in which their own race is a majority or plurality. Whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians typically do not want to be vastly outnumbered by “others.” That prospect is inherently threatening, particularly for whites. As a result, residential integration necessarily has been limited.

The most recent national audit of racial discrimination in housing, conducted in 2000, shows that while there has been considerable improvement since the last audit in 1989, whites are still consistently favored over racial minorities.[2] Researchers for the study, commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, sent minority and white testers out to attempt to rent or purchase homes in 23 metropolitan areas with significant black or Latino populations. The test partners had virtually the same income, assets and debt liabilities, and education levels.

Overall, Latinos experienced more discrimination than blacks. The group most discriminated against were Latino renters; landlords favored whites over this group one quarter of the time. They favored whites over black renters one fifth of the time. In particular, whites were more likely to receive information about available housing units and had more opportunities to inspect available units. The numbers were only slightly better for blacks and Latinos seeking to buy, rather than rent, a home.

Our separatism exists, but it is not inherently natural. Through a series of public and private institutional choices, we created a separatist social order. It did not have to be this way; separation was not our preordained fate. At the dawn of the 20th century, economic and racial integration was the norm. It was not at all uncommon in American cities to find blacks living in close proximity to other races, or to find blue collar workers living among the elite. This was especially the case in southern cities.

Segregation as Public Policy

Four seminal public policy choices made in the 20th century contributed mightily to the racially and economically divided landscape, the bastions of affluence and of need, now familiar to metropolitan America. First, we adopted a system of local governance premised on a religion of local autonomy that has fueled the proliferation of new, homogenous communities. Chief among the local powers that are wielded to exclude undesired uses of land and undesired populations is the zoning power.

Second, the federal government, through its Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance program, adopted and propagated the orthodoxy that homogeneity was necessary to ensure stable housing values. The FHA, the largest insurance operation in the world in its heyday, essentially chose to underwrite mortgages only for new single family homes in predominately white neighborhoods, inventing and propagating the notion of redlining—a legacy we live with to this day—and initially locking out whole races and classes of people from the largest wealth-producing program in our nation’s history.[3]

Third, the interstate highway program—the largest public works program in the history of the world—opened up easy avenues for escape from the city while at the same time destroying vital black, Latino, and white ethnic neighborhoods.

Fourth, the federal government, through a number of urban development programs, created the black ghetto. Urban renewal, famously renamed by black folks as “Negro Removal,” destroyed mostly black-occupied housing strategically located near the central business district, ostensibly to help cities prepare for a post-industrial economy and to eliminate “blight.” The federal government spent about $3 billion to remove almost 400,000 units of affordable, largely black-occupied housing that was strategically located. Those people who were displaced had to move somewhere, which typically meant to public housing or more marginal neighborhoods.

Any one of these policies, individually, would have altered the metropolitan landscape in a way that advantaged some and greatly disadvantaged others. But these policies were cumulative. Coupled with the federal government’s tepid resistance to housing discrimination, these policies worked in concert to create a systemic bias in favor of racial and economic segregation rather than inclusion.

Racial Profiling by Zip Code

Private actors, particularly those in the real estate industry, have contributed mightily to the racial and economic segmentation of our life space. Most critically, the real estate, banking, and insurance industries embraced the federal government’s orthodoxy that racial and economic homogeneity were necessary to protect property values. Private developers tend to develop to meet a certain class niche.

However, something even more insidious is going on. Every zip code in America has been racially profiled. Marketing companies create databases that rate each zip code based upon their demographics. In turn, all of the actors that shape real estate markets—land use planners, real estate developers, financial institutions, insurance companies, and retailers—rely on these databases to decide where to invest, develop, and do business. One company, for example, has developed the Claritas PRIZM system of categorization—40 socioeconomic rankings of “zip quality,” ranging from ZQ1 (known as “Blue Blood Estates”) to ZQ40, “Public Assistance.”[4] All of these profiling databases establish a hierarchy of neighborhood types that skew investment decisions heavily in favor of predominately white suburban communities.

Hope through Coalition Building

The stratospheric costs we are enduring, individually and collectively, as a result of race and class separation reflect our failure to deal with the truly hard questions left over from the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement largely stopped once the barriers of formal Jim Crow segregation were dismantled. While the delegitimation of discrimination was the chief success of the civil rights movement, we never reached any national consensus about whether integration of the races and classes—that is, the sharing of neighborhoods, schools, and life space—was an important objective to be affirmatively pursued.

I believe there is no substitute for taking “the hard path” not yet chosen, explicitly tackling segregation. Our nation’s history shows that only when we choose the hard path of attacking issues of race and racial inclusion frontally do we make meaningful progress. Indirect approaches are no substitute for a frontal attack on what is ailing us as a nation. They will simply delay the inevitable adjustment that is needed—as happened when the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson installed the “separate-but-equal” doctrine for 60 years, until the Supreme Court jettisoned it in Brown v. Board of Education.

I dare to imagine an America that has experienced a transformative integration of the races. By this I do not mean the assimilationist model of the 1970s. Instead, I envision an America where the majority of citizens, especially whites, have developed a true comfort with racial difference, or what I call “cultural dexterity.” A culturally dextrous person—former President Clinton comes to mind—can walk into a room and be completely outnumbered by a different race or ethnic group and experience this with a sense of wonder, even celebration, rather than fear.

There is no shortage of sound ideas for bringing about more race and class integration in our neighborhoods by creating more integrated islands. What is missing is an insistent movement to alter our present separatist course in all communities. We lack a broad advocacy base for inclusive and more equitable public policies. Any movement for race and class integration must come from the grassroots. As Myron Orfield has so eloquently stated, national and state political leaders “do not create social movements around race,” rather they “mediate energy for change that is created below the surface.”[5]

Revolutionary change can be wrought by powerful new multi-race, multi-class coalitions that pursue smart new policies. Without doing the difficult, labor-intensive work of building sustainable coalitions that command at least 51 percent representation in any given policy-making arena, no change will be forthcoming. As my hero Frederick Douglass eloquently stated in the context of the abolition movement, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, it never will.”

Any effort that is serious about reducing regional inequity must have racial and economic integration as its central goal. Among the policies that could bring about more race and class integration at the neighborhood level is inclusionary zoning (or fair share affordable housing). Since 1973, for example, Montgomery County, Maryland, has required that 15 percent of all new housing developments above 35 units be affordable to low- and moderate-income families. In addition, the black ghetto can be broken up through policies that give people trapped in high-poverty communities the assistance they need to find decent housing in middle class settings. On the school front, I recommend universal choice options. Why should a family’s ability to choose a good school for their child be limited to their ability to pay their way into an exclusive neighborhood?

These are just a few of the revolutionary policies we have not considered because of our separated way of living and the defensive parochialism it engenders. Such possibilities are achievable, however, if the majority of people who now suffer under American separatism organize and act to reclaim democratic processes. It is time for people who care to imagine a different, more inclusive order, one that will benefit everyone. 


1. Cashin, S. The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream (Cambridge: Public Affairs, 2004).

2. Turner, M. A., et al., Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets: National Results from Phase I HDS 2000, Final Report, November 2002. Available at, no. 3 pp. 1-19.

3. Hall, P. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. pp. 291-294;

Jackson, K. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 203-218.

4. Metzger, J. T. “Clustered Spaces: Racial Profiling in Real Estate Investment.” Paper prepared for the International Seminar on Segregation and the City, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 26-28, 2001.

5. See Orfield, M. “Comment on S. A. Bollen’s ‘In Through the Back Door: Social Equity and Regional Governance,’” Housing Policy Debate 13 (2003): 659 and 666 (noting that Abraham Lincoln initially opposed the abolition of slavery and Lyndon Johnson initially opposed civil rights, but both leaders were ultimately forced by grassroots movements to pursue the progressive course).

Sheryll Cashin is a professor of law at Georgetown University. Her newest book is, The agitator's Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family (Public Affairs, 2008). This article is adapted from Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis edited by M. Paloma Pavel, to be published in June 2009 by The MIT Press. 


Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Incarceration vs. Education:

 Reproducing Racism and Poverty in America


Americans are reinforced to believe that individuals are largely in control of their own destiny. Hard work, sacrifice, and personal effort, we are told, determine what happens to us. But increasingly, the fundamental institutions of American society function unfairly, restricting access and opportunity for millions of people. The greatest example of this is the present-day criminal justice system.

Let us start with the basic facts. As of 2008, one out of every 100 American adults is living behind bars. According to a December 2007 study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Race and Ethnicity in America,” in the past 30 years there has been a 500 percent increase in the number of Americans behind bars, amounting to 2.2 million people, which represent 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This prison population is disproportionately black and brown. As of 2006, the United States. penal population was 46 percent white, 41 percent African American, and 19 percent Latino. In practical terms, by 2001, about one out of every six African-American males had experienced jail or imprisonment. Based on current trends, over one out of three black men will experience imprisonment during their lives.

There is overwhelming evidence that the overrepresentation of blacks in prisons is largely due to discrimination in every phase of the criminal justice system. According to the 2007 ACLU study, for example, African Americans comprised 11 percent of Texas’ population, but 40 percent of the state’s prisoners. Blacks in Texas are incarcerated at roughly five times the rate of whites. Despite the fact that blacks statistically represent fewer than 10 percent of drug abusers, in Texas 50 percent of all prisoners incarcerated in state prisons and two-thirds of all those in jails for “drug delivery offenses” are African Americans.

A similar pattern is found within the juvenile justice system. According to the same study, African-American youth amount to 15 percent of all American juveniles. However, they represent 26 percent of all juveniles who are arrested by the police nationwide. They are 58 percent of all youth who are sentenced to serve time in state prisons. In California, Latino youth are two times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison; for African-American youth in California, it is six times the incarceration rate.

What are the practical political consequences of the mass incarceration of black Americans? In New York State, for example, the prison populations play a significant role in how some state legislative districts are drawn up. In New York’s 45th senatorial district, located in the extreme northern corner of upstate New York, there are 13 state prisons, with 14,000 prisoners, all of whom are counted as residents. Prisoners in New York are disenfranchised—they cannot vote—yet their numbers help to create a Republican state senatorial district. These “prison districts” now exist all over the United States.

The most obscene dimension of the national compulsion to incarcerate has been the deliberate criminalization of young black people, with the construction of a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Under the cover of “zero tolerance” for all forms of “disobedience,” too many school administrators are aggressively and unfairly removing black youth from schools. Statistically, African-American youths are two to three times more likely than whites to be suspended, and far more likely to be corporally punished or expelled. Also from the ACLU study, “nationally, African American students comprise 17 percent of the student population, but account for 36 percent of school suspensions and 31 percent of expulsions. In New Jersey, for instance, black students are nearly 60 times more likely to be expelled than their white counterparts. In Iowa, blacks make up just five percent of the statewide public school enrollment, but account for 22 percent of suspensions.” Too many black children are taught at an early age that their only future resides in a prison or jail.

But despite this reality, the raw numbers and percentages of African Americans in higher educaiton has largely trended upward. The bottom line—in higher education—the overall numbers of African Americans are continuing to increase. Yet, the patterns of racial inequality and unfairness—from tenure decisions to the difficulties black graduate students have in finding employment as teaching assistants—continue to exist.


For generations, African-American parents have told their children that the surest path to professional advancement is a college education. The good news is that millions of African Americans are attending colleges, and thousands more are enrolled in graduate and professional schools. But in the aftermath of the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger Supreme Court decision, and legislative and electoral assaults on affirmative action, a decidedly mixed picture emerges on the state of blacks in higher education.

First, some positive news. According to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Winter 2007), about four million African Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, representing 18.5 percent of all blacks 25 years and older. In 1990, only 11.3 percent of all African Americans 25 years and older held collegiate and advanced degrees. In 1996, that number grew to 13.8 percent. Currently, 952,000 also hold master’s degrees. About 166,000 African Americans have earned professional degrees in fields such as medicine, business, engineering, and law. And approximately 111,000 blacks in the United States now hold a Ph.D.

These statistics represent a remarkable expansion in the access to higher education that African Americans have experienced over the past two decades, despite the public assault against affirmative action. By comparison, about 31 percent of all whites 25 years and older hold college and advanced degrees.
Several factors explain the continuing growth of black enrollments in America’s colleges and universities. First, despite the pressures to outlaw affirmative action enforcement and diversity, over the past 10 years, the majority of the 26 most prestigious research universities have redoubled their efforts to recruit African-American and Latino undergraduate students. Nineteen of these institutions posted gains in African-American freshman enrollment between 1997 and 2007, including: University of Chicago, 43 to 91, up 111.6 percent; Emory University, 84 to 121 up 44 percent; Columbia University, 116 to 153, up 31.9 percent; and the University of Pennsylvania, 154 to 202, up 31.2 percent.

A similar situation exists at many of the highest-ranking, elite liberal arts institutions. In fact, many of these liberal arts colleges have significantly higher African-American first-year admission rates than their overall admission rates. For example, Williams College’s average admission rate for black applicants between 1998 and 2007 was 55.1 percent, compared to an overall admissions rate of 21.1 percent, representing a 34 percent difference favoring African Americans. Amherst College’s average black admissions rate during the same decade, 50.1 percent, was significantly higher than its 19.2 percent overall admissions rate. Bowdoin College accepted 47.7 percent of black applicants, compared to its 24.2 percent overall rate, a 23.5 percent difference; Haverford College admitted 45.7 percent of black applicants compatred to 37.2 percent overall, a 15.5 percent difference; and Wesleyan accepted 38.2 percent of all African Americans, compared to a 28 percent overall rate, a 10.2 percent difference favoring blacks.

What explains these statistics? First, the pool of highly competitive, academically-prepared African-American high school students has grown significantly over the past 10 to 15 years. The size of the black middle and professional class has more than doubled, and the majority of these black students are drawn from these relatively privileged households. Secondly, universities and elite colleges are probably overcompensating for the dismantling of affirmative action and minority-oriented recruitment and retention programs, which were the result of Grutter v. Bollinger and state referenda like California’s 1996 Proposition 209. By elevating the black admissions rate, elite schools are making sure that minorities will be well represented in their matriculating classes.
A similar success story, at first glance, seemingly exists for African-American graduate students. Back in 1987, only 787 blacks earned Ph.D.s in the United States. By 2004, 1869 African Americans earned doctorates, representing 7.1. percent of all Ph.D.s granted that year. However, for the next two years, the number of African Americans granted Ph.D.s fell —to 1,688 in 2005 and 1,659 in 2006.

The profile of African-American Ph.D.s is strikingly different from most white Ph.D.s. On average, black Americans take 12.5 years to earn a doctorate after receiving their bachelor’s degrees, compared to 10 years for whites. The average age of an African-American Ph.D. recipient is 36.7 years, compared to 33.4 years for white Americans. As the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education noted, “It appears that the predominantly white faculties of our major research universities prefer white teaching assistants over black teaching assistants. About 16.7 percent of white Americans who earned doctorates in 2006 served as teaching assistants during their doctoral study,” compared to only 6.9 percent of black Ph.D. students.

There’s also evidence that more white Ph.D.s plan to use their doctorates in private business than African Americans. Over 15 percent of white doctorates expect to obtain employment inside industry and business; only 9.1 percent of black doctorates have similar plans. While 68 percent of African-American Ph.D. recipients plan to obtain jobs in higher education, only 57 percent of white Ph.D.s do.

Once black Ph.D.s are hired at predominantly white colleges, they appear to encounter the same old racism that generations of earlier African-American scholars faced within white institutions. From 1993 to 2003, the number of African Americans in tenured faculty positions increased by 20 percent, up from 10,555 to 12,707; however, the percentage of African-American faculty who have been awarded tenure has actually declined, from 40.8 percent in 1993 to 38.1 percent in 2003. At least 70 percent of all black Ph.D.s aren’t even employed in full-time jobs. They hold part-time, adjunct, and half-time positions, many of which have no pensions or medical benefits.

Back to Prison
Meanwhile, state after state is reducing its investments in education, while expanding its expenditures in correctional facilities. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 14, 2008), between 1987 and 2007, states spent an average of 21 percent more on higher education, but expanded their corrections budgets by an average of 127 percent. Today, for the first time in recent history, there are five states that spend more state money on prisons than on public colleges—Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont. The ugly tradeoff not to educate but to incarcerate continues.

Dr. Manning Marable is professor of Public Affairs, History, and African-American Studies, and director of the Center for Contemporary Black History, Columbia University, New York. This article is based on two pieces from

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Segregation is Still Wrong and Still Pervasive

Pervasive housing discrimination by public and private actors helped create, and now maintains poor, minority neighborhoods. Until the end of World War II, physical violence, racial zoning, and discriminatory real estate practices kept blacks closely confined to the ghetto.[1] In many cities, white property owners attached restrictive covenants to deeds that forbade blacks from buying homes in their neighborhoods.[2] Real estate agencies engaged in a variety of discriminatory practices, including racial steering of blacks and whites away from each other andblockbusting, which involves selling a few homes in a white neighborhood to black tenants, buying neighboring homes at lower prices from panicked white homeowners, then reselling the homes to middle-income blacks at a premium.

To this day, blacks and Latinos at all income levels are discriminated against by real estate agents, who show them only a small subset of the market and steer whites away from communities with people of color.[3] Mortgage lenders also systematically lend less money to blacks and Latinos compared to whites of similar income and background.[4] These patterns of resegregation do not end at city borders but also extend into suburbia. A recent study of metropolitan Boston showed that nearly half of all black homeowners were concentrated in seven out of a total 126 communities.[5]

The FHA Does Its Part

Starting in the 1940s, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) began to guarantee loans with 10 percent down payments, lower interest rates, and longer mortgage periods. Whites in overwhelming numbers used these loans to build homes in the suburbs, but discriminatory practices prevented blacks from following suit. The FHA would not provide low-cost loans to “inharmonious racial or nationality groups. The private sector, following the government’s lead, did not make loans to individuals in neighborhoods that were “redlined” on FHA investment maps.

Public housing has been another factor in fostering segregation. In the 1930s, authorities began siting public housing in the inner cities and since 1969, have filled it with poor tenants, instead of encouraging mixed income, racially stable communities.[6] Several studies show that if the government had not segregated public housing and its tenants, school desegregation would not have been necessary.[7] Some officials claim that low-income housing in poor neighborhoods revitalizes those communities economically, but a recent literature review commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that low-income housing by itself does not have a revitalizing effect.[8] On the contrary, studies of Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia showed that adding low-income units in poor segregated neighborhoods is likely to further depress the value of housing.

As neighborhoods undergo the process of becoming deeply poor and segregated, they frequently lose significant population density. Studies show that in very poor segregated neighborhoods, low income tenants often move out of older, standard, habitable housing into newer, subsidized units. Because market demand in these neighborhoods is not strong, the older (but habitable) housing is simply abandoned, leading either to no net gain—or even a loss—of affordable units.

Resegregation in Real Time

Typically, after a number of black or Latino residents move into a neighborhood, white demand for housing there declines—first among households with children, and then the broader middle class. Businesses and jobs soon follow the white middle class, taking with them a portion of the tax base.[9] Since the black and Latino middle classes are not large enough to sustain the demand and price of houses in the neighborhood, the laws of supply and demand eventually lower housing prices, and low income minorities move in.

The Institute of Race and Poverty (IRP) has found striking evidence of resegregation in some of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Its analysis of 15 large metro regions between 1980 and 2000 found that a majority of blacks and Latinos now live in suburban cities and many neighborhoods, which appeared to be integrated, were actually in a period of racial transition. The neighborhoods experienced racial transition only if the non-white population exceeded 20 to 30 percent. Census data also shows that integrated tracts with a black population of over 30 percent in 1980 were more likely to make the transition to predominantly black during the next 20 years. However, communities that have practiced “managed integration”—employing a series of pro-integrative financial incentives, careful oversight of real estate practices, and marketing strategies geared to maintain the housing demand of whites when evidence of resegregation appears—have shown frequent success in maintaining social and economic integration for generations.

It is also evident that when schools become more black and Latino, they become poorer, and within a generation, the neighborhood follows. The most rapid racial and economic resegregation in schools is now occurring in older suburbs. Once the minority share in a community school reaches a threshold level—between 10 and 20 percent—racial transition accelerates until minority percentages reach very high levels (greater than 80 percent).

Despite this evidence of discrimination, conventional wisdom holds that patterns of segregation are simply the result of individual preference. The Supreme Court in Freeman v. Pitts upheld this view when it cited a lower court’s reliance on a study that said blacks and Latinos preferred 50/50 integrated neighborhoods, whereas whites were uncomfortable with more than a 10 percent black and Latino population, making segregation inevitable. While courts and legal commentators have cited this finding as fact, the study’s authors have recently written that the Court’s analysis was inadequate and that significant and increasing evidence shows that blacks and whites can live together on a long-term stable basis, particularly when a conscious integration plan is in place.[10]

The Harms of Residential Segregation

In 2000, about half of the black and Latino middle classes–over 10 million households–had suburbanized in the 100 largest regions. Owing to discrimination, however, blacks and Latinos often ended up in older, at-risk suburbs characterized by aging housing stock, slow growth, and a low tax base—the resources that support public services and schools. The poorest of these places were either resegregated or deeply in the process of becoming so. Clearly then, middle class minorities had fewer opportunities than their white counterparts in education, wealth acquisition through equity in homes, and employment opportunities.

Few blacks and Latinos live in bedroom-developing suburbs with average or below-average tax bases, low poverty schools, and some jobs and office space. Fewer still live in affluent job centers with low poverty schools, high tax bases, and little affordable housing. Poor whites, who do not face housing discrimination, can live more dispersed throughout suburbia, in middle-income neighborhoods, and attend middle class schools.[11]

Children from predominately poor neighborhoods, who attend very low income schools, face many barriers to academic and occupational achievement, even if they themselves are not poor. Studies show that they are far more likely to drop out of high school or to become pregnant as teenagers.[12] Long-term racial and social isolation in neighborhoods with high percentages of single parent families also leads to the formation of gangs and other forms of “oppositional culture” and a form of linguistic isolation, which limits employment opportunities later in life.

The vicious cycle of concentrated poverty with its high violent crime rate, huge health disparities (from a concentration of environmental hazards and poor diet), inadequate health care, and overall existential stresses, ultimately makes it even more difficult for teachers to do their jobs in public schools.[13]

The Benefits of Racial/Economic Integration

All individuals—including poor people of color—benefit from living in affluent and opportunity-rich neighborhoods with large tax bases and abundant entry-level jobs. Overwhelmingly, these are majority-white neighborhoods. The facts and outcome of Hills v. Gautreaux, show the effects of exposure to concentrated opportunity rather than concentrated poverty, on poor black families. A remedial program allowed largely low-income black households to live in three types of neighborhoods: poor and segregated, revitalizing white (with poor segregated schools), and affluent.

Researchers found that: (a) Women with low incomes who moved to the largely white, opportunity rich suburbs clearly experienced improved employment and earnings, even in the absence of job training and placement services.[14] (b) Individuals who lived in affluent white suburbs, as opposed to predominantly black city neighborhoods, were about 14 percent more likely to be employed; (c) Interviewed families found the suburbs to be much safer; and (d) The Gautreaux children performed significantly better in school after moving to more affluent areas.[15] Children who moved to the suburbs dropped out of high school less frequently than those who moved to the city (five percent versus 20 percent), and maintained their grades despite the higher standards at suburban schools. These children were also much more likely to be on a college track (54 percent), compared with the children who remained in the city (21 percent). Moreover, 75 percent of the suburban youth had jobs, compared to only 41 percent in the city.

The families in “revitalizing areas” made some gains but not as substantial as the families who moved to the suburbs. Schools in the revitalizing neighborhoods differed from the racial and socioeconomic makeup of their neighborhoods and were either segregated or in the process of rapid segregation. The evidence showed that these children did not experience the same level of opportunity as their suburban counterparts. Nor did the parents experience much more economic opportunity.

The findings from Gautreaux and other research bear out the consensus among social scientists that integration has long-term benefits. All children from desegregated elementary schools are more likely than their counterparts from segregated schools to attend a desegregated college, live in a desegregated neighborhood, work in a desegregated environment, and possess high career aspirations.[16] A study of some of the nation’s most selective law schools showed that the vast majority of the students had attended desegregated colleges. At the least, diverse educational settings contribute to a student’s ability to participate in a pluralistic society. Picket line at the Mid City Realty Company, Chicago Illinois, July 1941 © John Vachon, FSA-OWI Collection

The Clear Hope of Housing

Without serious policy changes, the rolling pattern of suburban resegregation caused in part by building government-supported low-income housing in segregated or resegregating neighborhoods, will continue to deeply hurt hundreds of communities. These communities could be strong and vital if our housing markets were fair and if the government affirmatively furthered fair housing. This disinvestment will not only destroy the wealth-building ability of middle class black and Latino households, it will reinforce the white prejudice that creates this pattern. Crucial to the goals of ending racial bias and supporting racial opportunity is a knowledge and understanding of another race that lives in a different world and experiences a different America.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, which includes Title VIII, is one of the most hallowed accomplishments of American law and shows Congress’s clear objective to integrate American society. Yet, as history has shown, without persistent advocacy, even the clearest legislative pronouncements will not enforce themselves. Advocates need to pursue other remedies to further an integrated society, using the FHA and state statutes and constitutions, together with a coherent multi-front legislative strategy. This strategy must involve long-term metropolitan integration, principles of opportunity-based housing, and the stabilization of integrated and gentrifying neighborhoods. Housing must be viewed as a clear path toward racial and economic opportunity that holds a real hope for revitalizing cities and older suburbs. 


1. Massey, Douglas S. and Denton, Nancy A. American Apartheid (1993), 12-38. Racially restrictive covenants were declared unconstitutional in the 1940s. Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1, 13 (1948).

2. Turner, Margery Austin et al., Urban Inst., Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets 3-1 to 3-19, 6-1 to 6-13 (2002), available at Publications/pdf/Phase1_Report.pdf (discrimination data from 2000)

3. Yinger, John. Closed Doors, Opportunities Lost 51-61 (1995) (examining racial and ethnic steering phenomena); see generally George C. Galster, “Racial Steering in Urban Housing Markets: A Review of Audit Evidence,” 18 Rev. Black Political Economy 105 (1990) (Same).

4. Yinger, John. “Cash in Your Face: The Cost of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Housing,” 42 Journal of Urban Economics 339, 340 (1997).

5. Stuart, Guy. Segregation in the Boston Metropolitan Area at the End of the 20th Century, The Civil Rights Project, Harvard Univ., (2000) available at (referring to evidence presented in the report’s unpaginated executive summary).

6. Gray, Robert and Tursky, Steven. Local and Racial/Ethnic Occupancy for HUD Subsidized Family Housing in Ten Metropolitan Areas, in Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy 235, 239 (John M. Goering Ed., 1986). Schill and Wachter, supra note 23, at 1295; Roisman, supra note 23, at 1357.

7. Orfield, Gary. “Metropolitan School Desegregation: Impacts on Metropolitan Society,” 80 Minn. L. Rev. 825, 854 (1996).

8. Making the Best Use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit 19-22 (2004); Rusk, David. Inside Game Outside Game (1999); Taylor, Henry Louis Jr. and Cole, Sam. “Structural Racism and Efforts to Radically Reconstruct the Inner City Built Environment,” Address at the Association of Collegiate Scholarship of Planning Conference 3 (Nov. 8-11, 2001).

9. Galster, George. et al., “Identifying Neighborhood Thresholds: An Empirical Exploration,” 11 Housing Policy Debate ,701 (2000); Quercia, Roberto and Galster, George. “Threshold Effects and Neighborhood Change,” 20 Journal of Planning Education and Research, 146, 154 (2000). Some have argued that the “invasion-succession” model may be less applicable in contexts involving Hispanic and Asian residents. David Fasenfest, et al., “Living Together: A New Look at Racial and Ethnic Integration” in Metropolitan Neighborhoods, Living Census Series, Apr. 2004, at p.1, 15, Available at pubs/20040428 _fasenfest.htm.

10. Farley, Reynolds. et al., “The Residential Preferences of Blacks and Whites: A Four- Metropolis Analysis,” 8 Housing Policy Debate 763, 794 (1997) (summarizing statistics showing tolerance of integrated neighborhoods). The district court relied on an earlier study of Detroit by Reynolds Farley. Id. at 768-73 (citing Reynolds Farley, et al., “Chocolate City, Vanilla Suburbs: Will the Trend Towards Racially Separate Communities Continue?,” 7 Social Science Research 319 (1978).

11. See Jargowsky, Paul A. Poverty And Place: Ghettos, Barrios, And The American City 135-36 (1997). While there are some very high-poverty white neighborhoods in Appalachia and in some older rust belt cities, more than 95 percent of poor whites in the United States live outside of high-poverty neighborhoods. By contrast, approximately 25 percent of poor blacks and Latinos live in neighborhoods of high poverty.

12. Balfanz, Robert and Legters, Nettie, Locating The Dropout Crisis, Johns Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools 2-3 (2004); Swanson, Christopher B. Who Graduates? Who Doesn’t? A Statistical Portrait of Public High School Graduation Class of 2001 The Urban Institute Education Policy Center, 4-9 (2004).

13. Orfield, Gary. “Urban Schooling and the Perpetuation of Job Inequality in Metropolitan Chicago,” in Urban Labor Markets and Job Opportunity (George E. Peterson and Wayne Vroman, eds., 1992).

14. Rosenbaum, James E. and Popkin, Susan J. “Employment and Earnings of Low-Income Blacks Who Move to Middle-Class Suburbs,” in The Urban Underclass (Jenks, C. and Peterson, P. , eds., Brookings Institution,Washington D.C. 1991.)

15. Rubinowitz, Leonard S. and James E. Rosenbaum, “Crossing the Class and Color Lines: From Public Housing to White Suburbia” 164-66 (2000); see John Goering, “Political Origins and Opposition, in Choosing a Better Life: Evaluating The Moving to Opportunity Social Experiment” 37, 40 (Goering, John and Feins, Judith D., eds., 2000)

16. Crain, Robert and Wells, Amy Stuart. “Perpetuation Theory and the Long-Term Effects of School Desegregation,” 64 Review of Education Research 531, 541-52 (1994); Braddock, Jomills Henry. “More Evidence on Social-Psychological Processes that Perpetuate Minority Segregation: The Relationship of School Desegregation and Employment Desegregation” 3 Center for Johns Hopkins Social Organization of Schools, (1983).

Myron Orfield is an associate professor of Law and director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at University of Minnesota Law School, and a non-resident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. This article is excerpted from "Racial Integration and Community Revitalization" (Vanderbilt Law Review, Fall 2000). 

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Our Educational Apartheid


Many Americans who live far from our major cities and have no firsthand knowledge of urban public schools harbor a vague notion that racial isolation—a matter of grave national significance some 35 years ago—no longer exists in any serious form. The unhappy truth, however, is that schools that were already deeply segregated 30 years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools that had been integrated (either voluntarily or by the force of law) have since been rapidly resegregating. You only need look at public school enrollment figures in most major cities. For example in the academic year beginning 2002, segregation rates of black or Hispanic students ranged from 75 percent in New York city to a more typical 84 percent in Los Angeles to a nearly total segregation rate of 94 percent in Washington D.C.


Stark as they are, even these statistics cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, 90 to 95 percent of students are black or Hispanic. For the year 2003, only 3.5 percent of the more than 4,000 students at John F. Kennedy High School were white; at Harry S. Truman High School, only two percent of the 2,700 students were white; and at Adlai Stevenson High School, a mere eight-tenths of one percent of 3,400 students were white.

A teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx once pointed out her sole white student to me with the remark: “I’ve been at this school for 18 years. This is the first white student I have ever taught.”

There is a well-known high school named for Martin Luther King Jr. in New York City. It was located in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood in the hope that it would draw large numbers of white students from the neighborhood. When the school opened in 1975, less than a block from the Lincoln Center, “It was seen,” according to The New York Times, “as a promising effort to integrate white, black, and Hispanic students in a thriving neighborhood that held one of the city’s cultural gems.” Right from the start, however, parents in the neighborhood showed great reluctance to enroll their children at the school and, despite “its prime location and its name, which itself creates the highest of expectations,” notes the Times, the school eventually became a destination for black and Hispanic students who could not obtain admission into more successful schools. It stands today as one of the nation’s most visible and problematic symbols of a legacy substantially betrayed.

Call it Anything but Segregation

Perhaps most damaging to any serious effort to address racial segregation openly is the refusal of most major arbiters of culture in our northern cities to confront, or even clearly name, an obvious reality that they would have castigated with a passionate determination in another section of the nation 50 years ago. And which, they still castigate in retrospective writings that assign it to a comfortably distant and allegedly concluded era. There is, indeed, a seemingly agreed-upon convention in much of the media today not even to use an accurate descriptor like “racial segregation“ in a narrative about a segregated school.

Linguistic sweeteners, semantic somersaults, and surrogate vocabularies are constantly employed. Schools with majority black and Hispanic students (95 percent and higher) are called “diverse” if a mere three or four percent of the students are white, or Southeast Asian, or Middle Eastern. It does not take long for visitors to these schools to discover the eviscerated meaning of the word “diverse”,which is not an accurate adjective but a mere euphemism for a plainer word that has apparently become unspeakable.

High school students in deeply segregated neighborhoods and public schools, however, are less circumspect and more open to confronting these issues. “It’s more like being hidden,” said a 15-year-old girl from Harlem in explaining to me the ways in which she and her classmates understood the racial segregation of their neighborhoods and schools. “It’s as if you have been put in a garage where [they put something] they don’t have room for but aren’t sure if they should throw it out… they put it where they don’t need to think of it again.”

Did she truly believe that America did not “have room” for her and other children of her race?

“Think of it this way,” quipped her 16-year-old companion, “If people in New York woke up one day and learned that we were gone, that we had simply died or left for somewhere else, they’d be relieved!”

Equality, it seems, is the sole article of faith to which most principals of inner-city public schools subscribe. The more realistic among them don’t even dare ask for, or expect, complete equality, which is beyond the realm of probability for many years to come. They look instead for a sufficiency of means—”adequacy” is the legal term most often used—by which to win those practical and finite victories within their reach. Higher standards, higher expectations, are repeatedly demanded of these urban principals, their teachers, and their students. But far lower standards—certainly in ethical respects—are expected of the dominant society that isolates children in unequal institutions.

In Good Times and in Bad

In 1970, when substantial numbers of white children still attended New York City’s public schools, there were 400 doctors to address the health needs of the children. By 1993, the number of doctors hired by the school system was down to 23—most of them part-time—a cutback that most severely affected children in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where medical facilities are most deficient and health problems most extreme. Teachers told me of asthmatic children who came to class with chronic wheezing, but the schools had no doctors to attend to them.

Political leaders in New York generally point to shifting economic factors, such as the budget crisis of the mid 1970s, to explain the decline in student services. But the fact is, the city’s students have been shortchanged routinely, in good economic times and bad. The bad times were used politically to justify the cuts, but the money was never restored when the crisis passed.

“If you [ignore] the changing racial composition of the schools and look only at budget actions and political events,” says Noreen Connell, director of the nonprofit Educational Priorities Panel in New York, “you’re missing the assumptions that are underlying these decisions.” When minority parents ask for something better for their kids, she says, “the assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids who just don’t count—children we don’t value.”

In the school year 1997–98, New York’s Board of Education spent about $8,000 to educate a third-grader in a New York City public school. At the same time, the board was spending about $12,000 per third-grader in a typical white suburb of New York, and $18,000 per third-grader in New York’s wealthiest white suburb where teachers typically made approximately $30,000 more than their counterparts in the Bronx.

The dollars on both sides of the equation have increased since then, but the discrepancies remain. In 2004, per pupil spending in New York City schools was $11,700, almost exactly the amount that Manhasset, Long Island, was spending in 1987. (In 2004, it spent over $22,000 per pupil.) In inflation-adjusted dollars, New York City has not yet caught up with its wealthiest suburbs of over a quarter-century ago.

Gross discrepancies in teacher salaries between the city and its affluent white suburbs have remained persistent as well. In 1997 the median salary for teachers in the Bronx was $43,000, compared with $74,000 in suburban Rye, $77,000 in Manhasset, and $81,000 in Scarsdale, just about 11 miles away. In 2002, salary scales for New York City’s teachers rose to levels that approximated those within the lower-spending districts in the suburbs, but the scale does not reflect actual salaries paid, which are dependent upon years of experience and advanced degrees earned. The overall figure for New York City in 2002 was $53,000, but it had climbed to $87,000 in Manhasset and exceeded $95,000 in Scarsdale.

Buying an Education with Money

It’s an oddity with many people with money—no matter how well educated and sophisticated—that while they do not doubt the benefit of making very large investments in the education of their own children, they somehow feel that there are better ways to make dysfunctional and failing schools work than “throwing money” at them.

“Can you really buy your way to better education for these children?” “Do we know enough to be quite sure that we will see an actual return on the investment we make?” The arguments are posed as questions but the answer seems to be decided in advance. Some of the people who ask these questions live in wealthy districts where the schools are well funded but they choose to send their own children to expensive private schools, some of which can cost up to $30,000 per year. Clearly, there is a double standard here or a reluctance to recognize the problem for what it really is.

As racial isolation deepens and the inequalities in education remain unabated, the principals of many inner-city schools have been forced to make choices that few principals in predominantly white public schools ever have to contemplate. Many have been dedicating vast amounts of time and effort to creating adaptive strategies that promise incremental gains within the limits of inequality.

The achievement gap between black and white children, which had steadily narrowed for three decades—the period in which school segregation decreased—until the late 1980s, started to widen once more in the early 1990s when the federal courts began the process of resegregation by dismantling the mandates of the Brown decision. Since then, the gap has continued to widen or remains essentially unchanged. Recently, there has been a modest narrowing of the gap in fourth-grade reading scores but the gap at the secondary level remains as wide as ever.

In 48 percent of high schools in the nation’s 100 largest districts—which also happen to have the highest concentrations of black and Hispanic students—less than half the entering ninth-graders graduate in four years. Between 1993 and 2002, the number of high schools graduating less than half their ninth-grade class in four years increased by 75 percent. In New York state school districts where white children make up the majority (about 94 percent of them), nearly 80 percent of students graduate in four years, but in the six percent black and Hispanic majority districts, only 40 percent do so. There are 120 high schools in New York with a minority enrollment of nearly 200,000, where less than 60 percent of entering ninth-graders even make it to twelfth grade.

Whether the issue is inequity alone or deepening resegregation or an intertwining of the two, it is well past time for us to change things. If it takes people marching in the streets and other forms of civil disobedience, if it takes more than litigation, more than legislation, and much more than resolutions introduced by members of Congress, these are prices we should be prepared to pay. “We do not have the things you have,” writes a child from a school in the South Bronx. “Can you help us?”

Jonathan Kozol is the author of many books, including Savage Inequalities and Amazing Grace. This article is adapted from "Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's Educational Apartheid" published in Harper's Magazine,September, 2005 and is based on The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Crown Publishing Group, New York, 2005.

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Metrics of Regional Equity

How do we measure success? As regional equity takes root in the next generation of practice, techniques and tools for measuring progress are critical to building momentum and gaining traction. Basic numerical analyses—whether counting a decreasing number of vacant properties in a neighborhood over a decade or comparing the number of jobs obtained through various CBAs in a year—bring precision and provide “hard data” to bolster arguments for regional equity policies. More subtle qualitative measures are also being developed. For example, we can now look at housing as not merely “affordable” but as existing within matrices of opportunities that include transportation to quality jobs, access to green public space, and proximity to healthful food.

A pioneer in the application of regional equity metrics for measuring and analyzing human activity and settlement patterns, urban expert and former Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk advocates using metrics to offer community leaders not only statistical indicators but also a means to interpret data. Rusk is not alone in this view. Redefining Progress (based in Oakland, California), Manuel Pastor (at the University of California at Santa Cruz) and john powell (with the Kirwan Institute)—among many others—are also part of this growing movement to establish community-defined indicators that “expose obstacles to a healthy quality of life, and illuminate economic, environmental and social trends.”[1]

Metrics also offer a way to keep multiple stakeholders committed to a plan of action without requiring congruence of motivation. Comparisons between regions that enable state or nationwide assessments are also possible with metrics. For example, Myron Orfield’s analysis of the fiscal capacities of jurisdictions illustrates compelling measurable disjunctions between affluent suburban communities and at-risk suburbs.


Racial segregation continues to be a significant factor that limits access by people of color to good jobs, good schools, increasing home equity, and many other economic goals. In his 2004 paper titled, “Regional Equity Metrics,” Rusk outlines specific regional equity goals and their corollary indices, which are based on measurements of both racial and economic segregation.[2]

Rusk writes that residential segregation indices are commonly measured in three ways: using dissimilarity indices, using isolation indices, and using exposure indices. “Dissimilarity indices measure the degree to which a minority population (e.g. blacks, Hispanics, poor persons) is set apart from the majority population (e.g. ‘whites,’ non-poor persons),” Rusk explains. “On a scale of zero to 100, an index of zero would indicate an even distribution of a minority group across all neighborhoods (census tracts) of a region; an index of ‘100’ would indicate total racial or economic apartheid. At an index of 100 for blacks, for example, all blacks and only blacks would live in certain neighborhoods and all whites and only whites would live everywhere else.”

Rusk’s use of segregation indicators in constructing a metric is a groundbreaking approach. In addition, a community’s voice, or lack thereof, can also be seen as a metric. One example of this can be seen in Thomas W. Sanchez’s study that quantifies the composition of metropolitan planning organization boards as a contributor to potential bias in allocating state and federal transportation funds nationwide.[3] (Also see Sanchez article on page 72 of this issue.) And the well-known Gini coefficient, an index that is a measure of inequality of distribution, has been used to quantify disparities in income distribution and has influenced the development of other useful metrics, including the Robin Hood index.[4]

Highly specialized and expensive research is not always required. Rusk has demonstrated this by developing metrics from United States census data collected from all jurisdictions across the country. At the Brookings Institution, 2000 census data has been the basis of several important studies, including Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000, a three-volume study outlining the demographic trends defining our metropolitan regions.[5]

The Power of Images

Regional equity advocates like Myron Orfield, executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota, are using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping tools to increase their impact. A GIS map explains a region’s complex social patterns in a way that is easy to grasp. While columns of numbers are mind numbing, a map illustrating impacts across a whole region helps people to understand key regional social and economic trends that affect their lives. GIS maps can be used to show economic inequalities among communities, or how new growth at a region’s edge undermines the inner city. Assisted by such maps, communities have achieved important gains in such areas as fair housing, more equitable school financing, reform of transportation spending, and brownfield remediation.

The forces of segregation and inequality are too large to confront in isolation. Activists tackling inner-city poverty often focus on one neighborhood at a time. Yet, the power of racial discrimination and fiscal inequality in a region undermines their efforts. Maps make larger patterns of inequity visible, both to citizens and to decision-makers.[6]

In the years ahead, metrics will play an increased role in defining outcome goals and will focus efforts to achieve greater regional equity for economically isolated and racially segregated residents. By using presentation strategies illustrated effectively with metrics, advocates will be in a better position to create compelling arguments to help reduce inequalities within regions and address the isolation of the poor from the rest of society.


1. See Rusk, D. Regional Equity Metrics, a report for the CORE group at the Ford Foundation, 2004.

2. Rusk notes that, statistically, the isolation and exposure indices are highly correlated with dissimilarity indices. Change the dissimilarity indices and the isolation and exposure indices will automatically follow.

3. Sanchez, T.W. An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards. Transportation Reform Series. Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 2006.

4. The Robin Hood index measures income inequality. The higher the index, the greater the inequality in income distribution.

5. Katz, B., Lang, R. and Berube, A. Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000 (3 Volumes). Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 2006.

6. For more information, see page 27 of the summer 2005 issue of Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures. Issue includes “Social Patterns,” an article by Myron Orfield addressing the effectiveness of GIS Mapping. Bainbridge Island, Washington: Positive Futures Network.

This article is adapted from Breakthrough Communities: Sustainablility and Justice in the Next American Metropolis edited by M. Paloma Pavel, to be published in June 2009 by the MIT Press. © 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved. (See page 32 for more information on the book).

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An Equity Analysis of Transportation Funding

The primary function of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) is to adopt long-range transportation plans that govern the use and allocation of hundreds of billions of public dollars. The equity impact of their actions and decisions is a matter of great importance to low-income communities and communities of color.

Decisions about community and regional development are most successful within a democratic framework. Effective outcomes are achieved when those participating have “a full awareness of their interests and have sufficient power to assure representativeness and equity in outcomes.”[1] However, in order to express those desires and preferences in a meaningful way, the public must be provided with the capacity to participate. A crucial component of any democratized planning process is the demystification of the decision-making process and transparency in communication of alternatives to and consequences of proposed policies.

Legal mandates related to environmental justice (EJ) and social equity in the activities of MPOs are included in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1994 Executive Order 12898, which states, that “…each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.” Meaning, MPOs must not only treat EJ communities equally in terms of the opportunities afforded them for meaningful public participation, those opportunities must equal those offered to the most “important” stakeholders.

Federal regulations recognize that MPOs must give EJ communities the extra assistance they need to take full advantage of those opportunities. As a consequence, MPOs are expected to provide EJ and other participating communities with:

  • Sound information and analysis that may be reasonably required to articulate the actions that best respond to their needs, preferences, and desires.
  • Continuous, rather than intermittent, engagement for more effective participation in the decision-making process. Lapses in communication and engagement between planners and stakeholders inevitably lead to substantive gaps in knowledge, especially when the decisions at stake are long-term and span multiple years.
  • A continuous and accessible flow of information to facilitate transparency. Well-documented practices that are open to checks on accountability are vital for stakeholders to understand processes leading to decision-making.

The literature on public participation shows that bottom-up approaches, which involve and respond to initiatives from EJ communities are more likely to result in active, meaningful participation by the communities because of their greater investment and ownership in the process.


Democratic Input Through Democratic Structures

Voting members of MPOs are instrumental in programming federal and state transportation funds and should ideally reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of their constituents, so that every citizen is seen to have an equal chance of providing input.[2] A survey of the 50 largest MPOs, as ranked by population, showed that the size of the MPO board does not always correlate with the size of its jurisdiction. While the average was about 26 voting members per MPO, the range was between seven (Greater Buffalo and Portland Metro) and 76 (SCAG in Los Angeles). Participation by non-local (regional, state, and federal) representatives on each board also increased the number of voting members. The outliers among the MPOs were Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, each of which had low per capita levels of board representation relative to their population sizes of eight, 11, and 15 million respectively.

Gender. Females represent about 25 percent of voting members among MPOs surveyed and averaged over six per board. No MPO board was without females. San Diego AOG, Denver Regional COG, Southeast Michigan COG, Hillsborough County MPO, and the Metropolitan Council of Twin Cities had the highest proportion (over 40 percent each) of females. Additional research could examine whether policy emphases are affected by higher levels of female leadership.

Race and Ethnicity. The voting members of the selected MPO boards were predominantly white (approximately 88 percent) with about seven percent African Americans, three percent Hispanics, and one percent Asian/Pacific Islanders. Native Americans and “other” (combined) groups represented less than one percent of all voting members. By comparison, in 2000, the overall racial/ethnic composition of these MPOs was 61 percent white, 15 percent African American, six percent Asian, and 17 percent Hispanic.

In addition, 13 of the 50 MPOs in the study had all white members and only 10 had greater than 20 percent non-white members. The most racially and ethnically diverse group was the Oahu MPO (only 31 percent white) and the Miami Urbanized Area MPO (only 46 percent white). The MPO boards with the largest number of African Americans were in Miami (32 percent), Washington, D.C. (22 percent), and Philadelphia (17 percent). Overall, there was only a slight correlation between the racial/ethnic composition of the MPO boards and the race/ethnicity of their jurisdictions.


The Urban-Suburban Tug-of-Wars

Many MPO boards are overrepresented by suburban interests because of a “one-area, one-vote” system. District boundaries for MPO board representatives and planning units are drawn in approximately equal-sized geographic areas, so urban core areas that have denser populations than suburban zones end up being underrepresented. This system influences the level of involvement and participation of persons based on residential location—negatively so, in the case of low-income, neighborhoods of color in urban core areas.

For the MPOs in this analysis, no correlation was seen between racially diverse MPO boards and the number of EJ planning activities.. This suggests that board representation may not necessarily lead to particular planning actions, such as the performance of EJ oriented planning analyses. Other research suggests that MPO board and voting structures have a significant effect on the outcomes of transportation investment decisions—especially those related to public transit.[3] In particular, they found that for each additional suburban voter on an MPO board, one to seven percent fewer funds were allocated to public transit in MPO budgets.

Although specific information about the racial and ethnic composition of MPO boards was not previously collected, we expected minorities to be underrepresented relative to the demographic characteristics of their constituents. This was the situation recently with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments when constituents challenged the representativeness of voting board members.[4] In particular, constituents were dissatisfied with expenditure levels for transit compared to highways in the Detroit metropolitan region, which they saw as skewing investments toward sprawl and consumption of rural land. The case has increased the visibility of MPO board structures and procedures regarding decision-making.


The Charms and Challenges of MPOs

It is difficult to gauge the level of commitment of MPOs to transportation equity principles simply by describing the types of planning activities that they undertake. Moreover, the racial and ethnic composition of voting members is only an indirect measure of adequate public participation and representation, although it may serve as an indicator of the degree to which minorities have a stake in regional policy making.

Planning analyses directed at equity concerns and adequate representation are two visible factors affecting MPO planning outcomes, which have both practical and symbolic importance. Data collection, analysis, and system evaluation regarding fairness at least signal an awareness of potential weaknesses and corrections. Follow through and implementation, however, are the ultimate sign of organizational commitment. In addition, a diverse set of representative policy-makers would ideally reflect the range of constituent preferences.

An interesting question is whether planning analysis and representative boards are substitutes for or complements within the MPO structure. Is it sufficient to have thorough data collection, analysis, and monitoring of equity outcomes at the metropolitan scale despite unrepresentative board members, or do representative boards (and their consequent voting) more directly influence policy and decision-making that affect distributional equity? Finally, does the combination of planning analyses and representative boards have synergistic effects that provide a greater potential for addressing the needs of traditionally underserved populations?

Specific challenges remain in regard to greater public participation and involvement in transportation decision-making by state departments of transportation and MPOs.[5] Community-based groups that assist transportation agencies should be encouraged to improve outreach processes and strategies to identify culturally diverse groups and facilitate their involvement. Such efforts are greatly needed to support information dissemination about transportation and related land-use impacts. Mechanisms are needed that allow formal recognition of coalitions of community representatives on MPO advisory committees and decision-making boards. In addition, MPOs, local governments, researchers, and community-based organizations need resources for more data collection and analysis about transportation access to basic needs, such as healthcare, jobs, affordable housing, and public education.[6]


1. Kaiser, E., Godschalk, D. and Chapin F., Urban Land Use Planning. 4th edition. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press,1995.

2. Nelson, L., Robbins, M. and Simonsen, B. 1998. “Introduction to the Special Issue on Governance.” The Social Science Journal, 35(4): 478-491.

3. Nelson, A.C., Sanchez, T.W., Wolf, J.F., and Farquhar, M.B. “Metropolitan Planning Organization Voting Structure and Transit Investment Bias: Preliminary Analysis with Social Equity Implications, Transportation Research Record (TRR),” Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2004.

4. Brooks, J. “Unrest plagues regional board,” The Detroit News, January 25, 2004.

5. Sanchez, T.W., Stolz, R. and Ma J.S. Moving to Equity: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities. Cambridge, Mass: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2003.

6. Surface Transportation Policy Project. Stay the course: How to make TEA-21 even better. Washington, D.C. 2003.

Thomas Sanchez is chair of the City and Metropolitan Planning Program at the University of Utah and Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution. He is the author (With Marc Brenman) of The Right to Transportaion: Moving to Equity (Planners Press, 2007). 

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Does the Marin Transportation System Shut Out People of Color?

A recent Texas Institute of Transportation study confirms what many rush hour commuters in the Bay Area have long suspected—traffic congestion here is the second worst in the nation, Los Angeles being the worst.[1] Specifically, in the North Bay, Marin County has logged the largest percent increase in traffic in the Bay Area between 2005 and 2007; up 20 percent from 2004.[2]

A boom in Marin County employment has a great deal to do with the traffic crunch. As jobs in Marin grew by 8.5 percent, the number of commuters from outside the county rose to 40 percent.[3] Since the growth in employment opportunities was not paralleled by an increase in affordable and subsidized housing in the county, a large part of Marin County’s workforce is forced to live in neighboring counties and commute to work.

There are also other, historical reasons for the county’s traffic predicaments. In 1961, a plan to run BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) through Marin County was turned down owing to the county’s population being too small to support the tax base needed for the project. Since then, although the tax base has grown considerably, county residents have turned down three other transportation measures (in 1990, 1998 and 2006) out of a reluctance to pay for public transit.[4] The implication being, Marin residents want to keep their community isolated. Additionally, there was a fear that if BART went through the North Bay, property values would deteriorate, the county’s economy would weaken, and minorities from “undesirable” neighborhoods would enter Marin more freely, leading to a potential rise in crime. Today, Marin’s failure to deal with transit-related issues has given rise to serious problems around transportation, both within and to and from the county.

The Marin-East Bay Divide

There is no light rail, ferry, train, bicycle path, or cable car that connects East Bay neighborhoods to anywhere in Marin. So, commuters from the East Bay have two choices: drive a car across the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, or take a bus.

Golden Gate Transit, the only major bus line in Marin County, runs two bus routes—40 and 42—from the Del Norte BART station in Richmond to the transit hub in San Rafael. The routes were launched in 1991 to connect the under-utilized work force in Contra Costa County with employment opportunities in Marin County.[5] Routes 40 and 42, however, are not a commuter’s ideal option as the buses snail through Richmond neighborhoods instead of using the freeways, or the much faster Richmond Parkway.

A one-way trip from Del Norte to San Rafael on Route 40 or 42 can take 45 minutes to an hour even without the rush hour traffic. By comparison, a car commute from Richmond to San Rafael takes around 25 minutes. What’s more, the buses run approximately once every 40 minutes and service stops at 8:00 PM. This is not very convenient for the low wage workers, such as housecleaners, nannies, cooks, and gardeners, who use Golden Gate Transit the most but do not work the usual nine-to-five day.

Nearly 658,500 people rode Golden Gate Transit buses in July 2008—about 9.6 percent more than in July 2007—and 80 percent of this ridership was during peak commuting hours.[6] A majority of the bus riders are minorities and/or low wage workers and nearly 45 percent are persons of color.[7] In fact, 25 percent of Golden Gate Transit riders make less than $25,000 per household annually.[8] The projected job growth in the North Bay, 30 percent, is in occupations that pay at or just above the minimum wage of $6.75 per hour.[9]

Getting Around (or not) Within Marin

Traveling within Marin County is not that much better than traveling to and from it. Golden Gate Transit is the main bus line, heavily utilized by the Canal neighborhood, which is isolated from the rest of Marin by a waterway and the interconnecting freeways of Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Demographically, the community is 70 percent Hispanic and over 15 percent of Canal residents live below the poverty line, compared to less than eight percent for the rest of the county. The number of households in the Canal without access to a car is dramatically higher than in the rest of Marin County, so Canal residents are twice as likely to use public transit than the rest of Marin.[10] At the same time, the neighborhood has very limited resources, such as grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and schools, which makes it extremely inconvenient for residents of this isolated segment of Marin to access essential services and goods in a timely and practical manner like any other resident of Marin County.

Routes 35 and 36, the two bus lines that operate through the Canal, are the most heavily used in Marin.These buses are often crowded and late, come too infrequently and do not operate early in the morning or late at night.The disparity in transportation access between the low income and more affluent regions of Marin are more than apparent and should be rectified.

Transportation as Basic Right

Traffic congestion and accessibility have become central issues affecting Marin today. The Metropolitan Transportation Committee recently released funding to Golden Gate Transit to improve Routes 40 and 42. The service is now expected to run until midnight, seven days a week, and offer several limited-stop buses. This new and improved bus route from the East Bay to Marin will be a more streamlined commute and the expanded hours will benefit low-wage workers who commonly work late at night. It is hoped that service funding will be allocated to help expand the bus line over the next three years, including an increase of 28 to 33 roundtrips during peak commute hours.[11]

The funding to Routes 40 and 42 is a good start but more needs to be done. Extra buses are needed from other cities in the East Bay as well. Traveling from Berkeley or Oakland to the Del Norte Bart Station to catch a bus into Marin can be a long and arduous task. There is a serious need for direct bus lines from Berkeley and Oakland to Marin for workers commuting from those cities. Moreover, since these cities connect to BART and other fully functional bus lines, like the AC Transit, Marin County would then be connected to the Bay Area at large through a network of transit services.

Future funding should also be directed towards offering more incentives for car commuters to ride the bus. A dedicated bus only lane on the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge, for example, would make the trip dramatically shorter. Making the buses themselves more commuter friendly with Wi-Fi connections and plush seats would also attract more riders. A good start in this direction would be to use Marin voter-approved Measure A funds primarily for local transit systems—within Marin in districts like the Canal, and to East Bay cities.

It’s time for Marin County and transportation experts to take serious steps towards resolving the conundrum of the county’s traffic nightmare. Available transportation obviously has become insufficient to meet the needs of commuters and residents. Adding more bus lines through communities like the Canal and from the East Bay is imperative not only to alleviate traffic congestion but also to meet the basic needs of these individuals who make up Marin’s primary workforce.


1. Texas Transportation Institute, Urban Mobility Study, 2001.

2. Metropolitan Transportation Commission, “Facts and Figures: Traffic Slows Down as the Bay Area Economy Speeds Up.” July/August 2006.

3. “Moving Forward: A 25-year Transportation Vision for Marin County,” Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates.

4. Prado, Mark. “SMART Rail Plan’s Price up $200 million,”?Marin Independent Journal,?May 6, 2008.

5. “Bus Service Bridges East Bay-West Bay Gap,”, April 14, 2008.

6. Golden Gate Transit. “Recent Trends in Bridge Traffic & Transit Ridership”, April 23, 2008.

7. Metropolitan Transportation Commission: Transit Passenger Demographic Survey, 2006-07.

8. Ibid.

9. Rhee, Nari and Acland, Dan. The Limits of Prosperity: Growth, Inequality, and Poverty in the North Bay, New Economy, Working Solutions, Santa Rosa, 2005.

10. Transportation Authority of Marin, City of San Rafael: Canal Neighborhood Community-Based Transportation Plan, September 2006.

11. Ibid.

Ericka Erickson is the associate director of the Marin Grassroots Leadership Network.

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits

Traffic Causes Death and Disease in San Francisco Neighborhood

There is an environmental and health crisis brewing in the inner city and working class barrios of the San Francisco Bay Area. Their residents—primarily working class communities of color and immigrants—are dealing with the health impacts of heavy local and regional traffic that has been disproportionately channeled through their neighborhoods. Thanks to the transportation planning decisions made over the last generation, families looking for housing are often faced with the “choice” of an affordable but unhealthy community vs. a healthy but unaffordable neighborhood.

A Community Overwhelmed by Traffic

Southeastern San Francisco’s Excelsior District is a vibrant, working class community, home to many families of color and immigrants. It is also a community cradled by Highway 280 and the large, busy thoroughfares of Alemany Boulevard, Mission Street, and San Jose Avenue. So, there is a constant flow of traffic—particularly fast-moving trucks and buses on residential streets.

Concerned about the health impacts of the inordinately heavy traffic with its concomitant air pollution, noise, and safety hazards on the largely immigrant and working class communities of the area, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights), along with researchers from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health (UCB), developed a community-based Health Impact Assessment (HIA).[1]

PODER, community residents, and allies conducted door-to-door surveys in Spanish, English, and Chinese; counted traffic on street corners; took pictures of the neighborhood; and interviewed local residents to gather first-hand experiences and document the voices and ideas of the community within the HIA. The participatory approach brought together people of all ages and immigrant backgrounds to share their knowledge and experiences.

SFDPH helped to assess local air quality and monitor air and noise levels; and to model air quality and noise exposures based on community traffic counts. PODER also worked with students from a UCB Environmental Justice class to evaluate the walking environment and reviewed historical documents on the construction of Highway 280. Finally, they compiled and analyzed publicly available community health data, including death, hospitalization, and traffic-related injury data and demographics from the United States Census.

Traffic: An Environmental Justice Concern

Disturbingly, more people—particularly children—are living closer to the freeway than in the past. And a historical analysis of census data reveals that the freeway has become a “color line” through the community, with the racial composition of communities on either side notably different. Also, more people of color live in the area since the freeway was built.

Traffic permeates the home lives of the people in the study area. Residents report seeing, feeling, hearing, and smelling traffic and its negative by-products on a regular basis. They smell traffic exhaust on the sidewalk, at the bus stop, and even in their homes; their sleep is disturbed by traffic noise; and they worry about speeding cars and trucks on residential streets and the safety of children at play. These community experiences were also reflected in the air quality and noise modeling and measurement. The combination of intense freeway traffic coupled with focused local diesel truck and bus traffic creates neighborhood “hot spots” that exceed SFDPH’s recommended action levels for roadway exhaust exposures.

The Excelsior neighborhood had the highest overall number of asthma hospitalizations of all San Francisco zip codes from 2001 to 2006.[2] Furthermore, ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and lung disease, all of which have an increased risk from long-term exposure to air pollution and noise, top the neighborhood list of illnesses and causes of death. Traffic collisions also are among the top 10 causes of death and injury.[3] (For a detailed summary of these and additional project findings, visit

Educating the Community

Informed by local knowledge and the HIA, PODER and community members used various methods to share the findings within the community. PODER leaders wrote and performed a skit about how traffic pollution–especially from diesel trucks and buses—affects community health. Many workshops and trainings were held for community residents, and popular education materials, including a comic strip, were created. PODER also created a folleto, or pamphlet, which documents the findings of the HIA and celebrates the community’s unsung heroes who live on the frontlines of heavy local and regional traffic.

PODER worked closely with the Excelsior community to advocate for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to:

  • prioritize hybrid electric buses in communities most impacted by traffic-related pollution;
  • minimize truck traffic on streets in front of homes, schools, playgrounds, and other sensitive areas; and
  • establish a network of truck routes (through a participatory process) to minimize the health impacts on surrounding residential neighborhoods, while fac­il­itat­ing the efficient flow of truck traffic.

PODER leaders presented the problems, along with the analysis and suggested solutions to decision makers at the Municipal Transportation Agency, which has committed to creating operations protocols to deploy hybrid electric vehicles on lines serving southeast San Francisco. Simultaneously, PODER is also working with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to address the problem of concentrated traffic pollution from diesel trucks passing through the heart of the neighborhood.

The Lessons of Excelsior

The Excelsior study is remarkable for its collaborative, community-based approach to assessing the health impacts of traffic on a residential neighborhood. It draws on community members’ expertise and experiences in their local environment and combines it with the scientific knowledge and research tools made available by local universities and the city’s public health department—to generate solid evidence that can inform policy makers about the health consequences of their decisions. With this experience behind us, we look forward to a future in which the impacts of transportation policies and plans on environmental justice and community health are routinely considered and mitigated. 


1. Kemm J., Parry J., Palmer S. (Eds.) Health Impact Assessment: Concepts, Theory, Techniques, and Applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004.

2. San Francisco asthma hospitalization and emergency room data by resident zip code obtained by request from California Breathing, a program in the California Department of Public Health’s Environmental Health Investigations Branch. Additional information on asthma data can be accessed at:

3. Data accessed from the San Francisco Burden of Disease and Injury website at

Charlie Sciammas works with PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights); Tom Rivard, Megan Wier, and Rajiv Bhatia work with the San Francisco Department of Public Health; and Edmund Seto works with the University of California Berkeley, School of Public Health.

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The Race and Gender Wealth Gap

The economic justice movement has historically focused on income equality. To the extent that attention was given to assets, the assumption was that once families’ incomes are not consumed with basic needs, asset accrual will follow. While some gains have been made in narrowing the earnings gap, today wealth inequality is higher in the United States than any other industrialized country: the wealthiest one percent own one-third of the nation’s wealth. As with all inequality, it is important to recognize the racial and gendered elements of the disparity. In the United States, families of color own just one-tenth of what white families own.

Lack of wealth is both a cause and an effect of low income and poverty, and the two are highly correlated, creating a cycle of economic instability. Without adequate income, poor people—who are disproportionately people of color and women—are unlikely to acquire assets, whether purchasing a home or saving. Similarly, lack of asset ownership limits income opportunities, such as seeking advanced education or starting a business.

Asset ownership and wealth are in many ways a more elemental measure of economic well-being than income. Income is a short-term measure and is certainly critical for meeting daily living expenses. In contrast, wealth—which is more likely to be affected by previous generations—allows families to weather financial hardships, such as economic downturns and unexpected periods of unemployment. More profoundly, wealth creates opportunity and allows families to move from poverty to long-term prosperity.

If the accrual and maintenance of assets are critical to measuring economic well-being, asset poverty describes the condition of families for whom a sudden interruption in income would immediately produce serious consequences. In California, asset poverty rates are approximately twice income poverty rates, as defined by the federal poverty guidelines. Nearly one quarter of California families are asset poor. The economic situation for women and people of color is even more dire with one quarter of female-headed households and one third of minority-headed households having zero or negative net worth.

Women and people of color fare worse across the board on all common measures of economic security. They are less likely to own a bank account, which increases their vulnerability to predatory check cashing practices. They are also less likely to own their own home—the second most commonly held asset in the United States after vehicles.

Wealth Through the Racial Lens

On every count, people of color own less wealth than white Americans, as revealed by the following data:

African Americans (31 percent) and Latinos (35 percent) are approximately two and a half times more likely than whites (13 percent) to have zero or negative net worth.

Three-quarters of whites own their own homes compared to 46.7 percent Latinos and 48.1 percent African Americans.

More than half of white families have retirement accounts and a majority own some stocks. By comparison only 30 percent of African American households own stocks and they are one-fifth the value of what whites own.

Furthermore, the data shows that even within a given class, white Americans have greater access to assets and removing the wealthy, predominantly white elite from calculations reveals that white working-class people have on average more assets than people of color. Current trends show that this racial wealth gap is continuing to grow. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, from 1995 to 2001, the average family of color saw their net worth fall seven percent to $17,100, while an average white family’s net worth grew 37 percent to $120,000 in the same period.

The severity and persistence of the racial wealth gap requires targeted and strategic attention.

Wealth Through the Gender Lens

The gender wealth gap is more difficult to measure because wealth is typically a household-level characteristic, often with people of different genders in the same household. Consequently, most data on wealth disparity between men and women looks only at non-married households, which comprise 47 percent of all households according to the 1998 census.

Women are less likely than men to own almost every type of asset. The median value of assets held by women is almost always lower than that of their male counterparts. A smaller percent of women own stocks, bonds, and other financial assets compared to men. Women are also less likely to hold retirement accounts and a woman’s pension is typically smaller than a man’s.

Married households are significantly wealthier than non-married households. However, marriage and divorce affect men and women in different ways. Marriage reduces a woman’s likelihood of participation in the labor market, whereas no such consequence is found for men. In addition, women’s economic status suffers more than men’s upon divorce. Even widowed women, who fare best of all non-married women, own only $0.59 for every dollar of wealth owned by widowed men. Never-married women have the least wealth of all household types, owning less than a quarter of the wealth owned by never-married men. Never-married women’s median net worth is just $2,500 compared to the $148,700 median net worth of married individuals.

Persistent Factors of Inequality in Wealth

Most private wealth in the United States is inherited, which perpetuates the racial wealth gap. Approximately 80 percent of assets come from transfers from prior generations. Whites are approximately five times more likely than people of color to inherit after the death of a parent and they inherit nearly three times the value. One quarter of white families received an inheritance averaging almost $145,000, but only one in 20 African American families inherited, with an average inheritance of approximately $42,000. In addition, whites are two-and-a-half times more likely than African Americans to receive modest gifts from living relatives, such as contributions to college tuition or a down payment on a home.

Another factor is that for nearly 150 years, the United States government has encouraged asset building through targeted policies, such as the Homestead Act (1862) and the GI Bill (1944). While the stated intention of most asset building policies is to benefit working and poor families, a deeper look shows that they have failed to benefit low-income families; in large part owing to the predominance of asset building policies that operate through the tax code.

Currently, almost $300 billion per year in federal tax expenditures goes to support asset building among individuals in the form of tax credits, deferments, or exemptions for investments, homeownership, and retirement accounts. These policies are of little benefit to many low-income individuals who do not have tax liabilities. Low-income families who cannot afford a down payment on a home do not qualify for a mortgage or the generous income-tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes. In fact, it is households earning over $50,000 a year that receive over 90 percent of the benefits of a home mortgage tax deduction.

A new look at asset policy is needed to address centuries of economic inequality. Policies must focus on the specific needs of and unique opportunities for lower-income families, women, and people of color.

Women’s Initiative: A Case Study

Since 1988, Women’s Initiative has been helping lower income women of color achieve economic security through microenterprise, which typically has very low start-up costs. Its culturally competent, wrap-around business and personal development training in English and Spanish is designed to help low income and low asset women facing multiple barriers transform their work experience and ingenuity into a growing asset, which can then be leveraged to acquire additional assets, such as real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, and retirement funds.

About 31 percent of program participants are at or below the federal poverty line at enrollment (average household net worth is $12,968) and about 83 percent are women of color. In addition, many report low credit scores, including one or more bankruptcies, and are unable to access formal banking relationships when they enter the program. Many face other economic obstacles, such as little formal education, physical disability, and a history of domestic violence.

In 2008, Women’s Initiative conducted a study of its client data collected between 1998 and 2007, which supports the hypothesis that microenterprise is a very effective way to move low income women and families toward lasting economic self-sufficiency. (For information on research methodology and comprehensive findings, see the full report Closing the Wealth Gap through Self-employment: Women of Color Achieving the American Dream at

Women’s Initiative Client Research

Despite the financial risks often associated with business ownership, women in business have 40 percent higher average household incomes and 48 percent more household net worth than clients who have not yet started their businesses.

Participants in business management training reported an increase in the average value of the businesses from $914 (median: $0) before training to $6,352 (median: $300) two years after training.

More than three out of five clients (62 percent) reported gains in overall household net worth and home ownership doubled to one out of five (20 percent) after program participation.

African American clients reported the greatest average absolute growth (over 1,000 percent) in business equity two years after training, while Latina clients saw the largest relative gains (3,000 percent).

Latina clients experienced greater average gains in overall household wealth than non-Latinas. Moreover, clients who received services in Spanish reported higher average overall household wealth two years after training than clients who received services in English.

Microenterprise: A Possible Equalizer

The persistent income gap for women and people of color contributes to the wealth gap in the United States, as these families are unable to put away savings for investment and other asset building activities. Income inequality persists across generations as wealth is inherited. Government policy—which historically did not By equally benefit poor families and women and people of color—generated an initial inequality that has been perpetuated through subsequent poorly-targeted policies. Policies and programs to reduce the racial and gender wealth gap must provide culturally competent and targeted support for asset building.

Research conducted by the Women’s Initiative bolsters the case that microenterprise is an important tool for women seeking economic security. In addition to the significant income gains previously documented, there is now compelling evidence that on average, total household net worth rises dramatically after business training. The chance to leverage her skills, creativity, and hard work through business ownership allows a woman to create her own upward mobility. The relatively low start-up costs of microenterprises allows women to build an asset that in turn can be used to generate a safety net of personal wealth for the entire family.

Given the conclusions of the Women’s Initiative study, one can confidently argue that any new asset policies targeted at bridging the wealth gap must include culturally-competent, wrap-around business training for lower income women.


1. Lui, M., Robles, B., Leondar-Wright, B., Brewer, R. and Adamson, R. The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide. New York: The New Press, 2006.

2. Nembhard, Jessica Gordon and Chiteji, Ngina (Eds). Wealth Accumulation and Communities of Color in the United States: Current Issues. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2006.)

3. Corporation For Enterprise Development (CFED): “Owing more than we own.”, 2008.

Karuna Jaggar is director of research and public policy for Women's Initiative


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Predatory Lending and Foreclosure

Illustration: Foreclosures © 2007 Daryl Cagle

The Gonzales family wanted to purchase a home, but could only afford a mortgage of $2,700 per month. Although their conversations with the mortgage broker were in Spanish, their loan documents were entirely in English, which they could not read. It turned out that their mortgage cost them $4,700 monthly and carried an interest rate that adjusted up in six months. Before long, the Gonzales family was paying $5,000 per month, twice what they could afford, and without any hope of getting out of the mortgage because of a $16,000 prepayment penalty, which they had been unaware of.

Caroline Washington, an 83-year-old African American woman living in San Francisco, was induced by her broker to refinance her home three times in three years, causing her $52,000 loan balance to balloon to $240,000. Forced to make monthly payments of over $1,600, which represented nearly all of her fixed income, Ms. Washington lost her home to foreclosure.

The Gon
zales family
and Ms. Washington—both early victims of the foreclosure crisis that will last years and claim millions more victims—testified at a Federal Reserve hearing on mortgage practices on June 16, 2006.

Each day, about 1,300 homes go into foreclosure in California. Many of them are occupied by working families, seniors, immigrants, and people of color who were targeted by unscrupulous mortgage lenders and brokers. The impacts of these foreclosures have been devastating: lower property values for neighboring residents, blight, increased crime, less tax revenue to local governments to fund key services, and larger numbers of displaced tenants and foreclosed homeowners competing for limited affordable housing opportunities.

The Subprime American Dream Unravels

Much of the current foreclosure crisis is rooted in the subprime home loan market, where lenders make expensive loans to “credit-impaired” borrowers who are, or believe they are, otherwise unable to qualify for a conventional or prime loan. In 2006, subprime lending was a $600 billion industry that made its money by trapping borrowers, often people of color, in bad loans.

At the height of the subprime loan market, brokers pushed loans that in many cases were fraudulent, and lenders responded to growing competition by lowering underwriting standards and creating incentives to sell problematic option Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) and stated income loans. These flawed products were then packaged and fed to Wall Street securitizers and investors who chose not to screen out the problematic products and were not compelled to do so by the so-called regulators. As more and more borrowers like the Gonzales family and Ms. Washington began to default on their unaffordable loan payments, subprime lenders started to go out of business by the hundreds. But the very risky loans they made remained in our neighborhoods and exploded into foreclosures that continue to harm communities.

An analysis by the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) and allies showed that neighborhoods of color in seven metropolitan areas throughout the country were much more likely to be saturated with loans made by subprime lenders who went out of business for making too many bad loans. In Los Angeles, the market share of these high-risk lenders was 9.5 times higher in neighborhoods of color than white neighborhoods.

Subprime Loans = Repackaged Redlining

In some ways, subprime lending changed the traditional lending paradigm for neighborhoods of color from one of redlining (where lenders avoided entire neighborhoods) to reverse redlining (where lenders targeted these neighborhoods for more costly and risky home loans).

Study after study has shown that people of color are far more likely to get stuck with higher priced subprime home loans than whites. In 2006, over 45 percent of loans to African Americans and over 43 percent of loans to Latinos in CaliforniaCalifornia were higher-priced subprime loans, compared with only 19 percent to whites. Overall, neighborhoods of color in were 2.7 times as likely to be stuck with subprime loans as white neighborhoods.

The CRC estimates that borrowers of color in California (many of whom could have qualified for prime loans) have lost billions of dollars of equity in their homes because of subprime loans.

Containing the Crisis: A Modest Proposal

Shockingly, there are virtually no rules, reporting obligations, or regulatory oversight which obligate loan servicers to work with borrowers seeking to avoid foreclosure. As such, it is not surprising that in four CRC surveys of home loan counseling agencies serving over 10,000 borrowers per month, the most common outcome for homeowners cited was foreclosure.

There are ways to alleviate the devastating impacts of foreclosures, and policymakers must act quickly to pursue solutions that match the magnitude of the problem, including:

  • Imposing a 180-day moratorium on all foreclosures to allow time for workouts to take place.
  • Requiring loan servicers to offer long term, affordable loan modifications to borrowers trying to stay in their homes, including reform of the Bankruptcy Code.
  • Imposing checks on loan servicers to ensure that they are truly working to keep borrowers in their homes for the long term, including requiring them to report data that show whether they are helping people or not.
  • Enforcing consumer protection, the Community Reinvestment Act, and fair lending laws to ensure that low-income and neighborhoods of color are neither targeted for abusive products, nor ignored by mainstream financial institutions.
  • Prohibiting predatory lending practices.

At their testimony, the Gonzales family and Ms. Washington hoped that the laws would change soon enough to help homeowners struggling to keep their homes. Two years and millions of foreclosures later, so do we.

Kevin Stein is the associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. To view a short documentary about the foreclosure crisis, and for more information, visit


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Bay Area Health Inequities

The generation of Americans born at the beginning of the 21st century can expect to live, on average, 30 years longer than those born at the beginning of the 20th century. And at least 25 of those years are attributable, not to antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical advances, but to improvements in our physical and social environments, such as food and water sanitation, workplace and traffic safety, restrictions on the use of tobacco products, and housing conditions.[1]

Geographic distribution of poverty rates in Bay Area counties.

In fact, the odds of being healthy can depend very much on the community in which you live. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, people who live in West Oakland can expect to live on average 10 years less than those who live in the Berkeley Hills. Similarly, people in Bayview/Hunters Point can expect to live on average 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill, and residents of Bay Point can expect to live on average 11 years less than people in Orinda.[2]

Life expectancy in the Bay Area—and around the nation—conforms to a pattern called the “social gradient.”[3] The more income and wealth people have, the more likely they are to live longer. This pattern can be seen in the graph “Bay Area Life Expectancy by Race/Ethnicity: Data from 1999-2001” (on page 85), which correlates life expectancy to the extent of poverty in specific areas (census tracts). People who live in places where there is the least poverty can expect to live, on average, 10 years longer than people in places with the most poverty.

An Old and Systemic Problem

If everyone in the Bay Area lived as long as people in areas with the lowest poverty, death rates in the poorest areas would be reduced by nearly half, and in the “middle class” neighborhoods, by 20 percent.[4]

Residential segregation into affluent, middle income, and poor communities contributes to the reasons why where we live can have a significant influence on how long we can expect to live. But beyond the effects of income distribution, there is growing evidence that racism itself is a factor in health, translating into persistent stress and associated illnesses.

Over the centuries, racism has taken its greatest toll on Native Americans and African Americans, who have the poorest health status. (See graph on page 85.) African Americans have the lowest life expectancy in general.[5] And although whites have lower life expectancy in the highest poverty areas, fewer than one half of one percent of whites live in those areas.



Asians and Latinos have overall longer life expectancies than both African Americans and whites, and are less likely to show the influences of poverty. While the issues are complex, a probable contributing factor is, in part, significant immigrant populations. Many studies have shown that, while the health of immigrants overall is comparatively good, their health status deteriorates the longer they live in the United States, with subsequent generations showing poorer health along a number of public health indicators.[6]

The influence of neighborhood on health is not only a matter of poverty and physical environment, but also of cultural factors, such as family, community, and diet, which can help or hinder people’s abilities to withstand the effects of poverty and environmental risks. Unfortunately, many of the cultural supports and practices that help immigrant populations maintain better health initially are subject to erosion over time as subsequent generations adopt new ways of life and environmental factors, both social and physical, take their toll.

Improvements in neighborhood living conditions can benefit those who are most vulnerable as well as those who are most resilient. 

Bridging the Chasm Between Rich and Poor

The United States today has a degree of income and wealth inequality not seen since the 1920s, thanks to the changes in the way income, estates, and capital gains have been taxed over the past few decades. In order to close the health gap between the ultra rich and the middle and lower income groups, we have to take some steps to level the economic playing field.

1. Create a more equitable tax structure through policies that shift some of the tax burden from the middle and working class to the wealthy.

2. Tie minimum wage policies to cost of living. The first minimum wage increase passed by Congress in this decade has not kept close to the rise in cost of living. Living wage campaigns, such as the one passed in San Francisco, provide additional financial and health benefits.

3. Introduce education policies—from early childhood development through college—that mitigate, rather than exacerbate, levels of inequality in society. Educational priorities, such as those recently announced by the California Superintendent of Public Instruction to reduce high school dropout rates among African Americans and Latinos, will be important for creating avenues out of poverty.

4. Create housing policies that enable more people to make secure investments, which can contribute to improvements in overall health. Improvement of living conditions in increasingly multi-ethnic, low-income communities will have to become a priority for public agencies and private business investment if we want to contribute to improving health. Building new alliances within communities to assure that neighborhood improvements do not mean displacement and gentrification will be an important corollary.

5. Revise land use, transportation, economic development, and redevelopment policies with an eye to creating equity and improving health. There is a growing recognition that the built environment has consequences for health, and public health departments and planning agencies are gradually beginning to work together to make health a consideration in land use and transportation decisions.

6. Encourage neighborhood living conditions that combine mixed income and mixed use facilities, public transportation, affordable housing, open space, and removal of blight without causing displacement.

Public Health in the 21st Century

After decades of urban sprawl resulting from bad development decisions that did not consider the needs or necessities of affected communities, there are, finally, new currents in land use planning. Smart growth and the new urbanism are consistent with many planning principles that support good health. However, we are still a long way from making the relationship between public health and planning a priority for achieving greater health equity. That, calls for wider political support.

One avenue for widening political support is through renewed national dialogues about race and racism. We certainly hope that the openings for such a dialogue emerging from the 2008 presidential election might yield new strategies for reducing the toll taken by racism on the health of poor and immigrant populations and contribute to improving the health of future generations.






1. See, for example, Kawachi I, Kennedy B.P., Wilkinson R.G., The Society and Population Health Reader: Income Inequality and Health, The New Press, New York, 1999;

Sieguistr J., Marmot M., Social Inequalities and Health: New Evidence and Policy Implications, Oxford University Press USA, 2006;

Hofrichter R, Health and Social Justice: Politics, Ideology and Inequity in the Distribution of Disease, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2003;

Adler N, et al, Reaching for a Healthier Life: Facts on Socioeconomic Status and Health in the United States, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health, 2008,

2. Life expectancy is calculated using deaths for census tracts aggregated by poverty level and/or race/ethnicity. While the census tracts do not conform precisely to the city or neighborhood boundaries cited, they are within those boundaries.

3. Life expectancy is the number of years someone born today can expect to live if exposed to current death rates throughout their life.

4. Death rates refer to the number of deaths per 100,000 population. They are adjusted to allow comparisons among populations with different age distributions. Death rates are used when groupings cause the numbers to be too small to calculate life expectancy reliably.

5. See Adler N., et al, op. cit. Reaching for a Healthier Life: Facts on Socioeconomic Status and Health in the United States, 2008,

6. See, e.g., Koya, K.L. and Egede, L.E. “Association Between Length of Residence and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among an Ethnically Diverse Group of United States Immigrants,” Journal of General Internal Medicine, 22(6):841-6, June, 2007.

 Bob Prentice is the director of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII). Matt Beyers, an epidemiologist with the Alameda County Public Health Department, produced the data in this article, including the graphs and maps. A copy of the full report, as well as related information, can be found at:

Race and Regionalsm | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Fall 2008 | Credits