Rising Income Gap Shapes Residential Segregation
by NPR STAFF
September 23, 2012
The income gap is receiving much attention lately as more Americans are isolating themselves around "people like us."
More accurately, they surround themselves with people who earn similar incomes, and it is now fueling a rise in residential segregation. One recent study suggests the income gap might be greater today than even during colonial times – even when you account for slavery.
"Thirty years ago, about 9 percent of all upper-income people lived in predominantly upper-income neighborhoods," says Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center. "That share has now doubled to 18 percent."
Taylor recently co-authored a study that tracked this income gap increase between 1980 and 2010.
He tells Jacki Lyden, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered, that this is a national trend. But, he adds, locally several factors can contribute to residential segregation by income, including in-migration, the nature of the local economy, housing discrimination and even a city's physical layout.
Although it might seem self-evident that people of similar incomes would gravitate toward one another, Taylor says the problem is that it creates an increasingly polarized electorate.
"We are in a political moment where the sense of the middle, the sense of the cohesion, isn't feeling particularly robust," he says. "One outcome of that is a sense that the political process is ossified ... [and] that Washington doesn't work."
Residential segregation also makes it easier when it comes to gerrymandering, or redrawing district boundaries. Taylor says that increasingly the people who draw those lines do so in order to create "safe" districts, whether for Republicans or Democrats.
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