Tyler Cowen explains why rich white Democrats freely express love for immigrants and people of color

The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream by Tyler Cowen presents some interesting data. Contrary to what you might have thought, the trend in the U.S. has been toward more segregation.

Circa 2016, you can see a black president on your television or internet screen, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to see more neighbors of a different race than you would have seen a few decades ago. Or if you do, you’re much less likely to see such individuals outside of your income class, even if they are not of your race.

Segregation by income grew dramatically over the period of 1970 to 2000, with some respite in the 1990s, but then faster yet during the period of 2000 to 2007. For instance, in 1970, only about 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods that were unambiguously “affluent” or “poor.” By 2007, 31 percent of American families were living in such neighborhoods. At the level of school districts, segregation increased as well between students eligible for free lunch and those who were not. In other words, those students who were eligible for free lunch were more likely to be grouped together than in times past.

In the South, if we consider the variable “percentage of black students in majority-white schools,” that figure peaked in 1988 at 43.5 percent; as of 2011, it had fallen dramatically, to 23.2 percent. That is slightly lower than the integration level in 1968, a time when civil rights battles were close to their peak activity

In 1980, in Maryland, 30 percent of black students were in intensely segregated schools. That same figure is now about 53 percent. If we look at the percentage of black students in what are called intensely segregated minority schools, since 1980, in Mississippi, that number has gone up 9 percentage points; in Tennessee, it has gone up 15 percentage points; in Texas, 9 percentage points; in Georgia, 16 percentage points; in Alabama, 10 percentage points; in Florida, 17 percentage points; and in Arkansas, it is up 21 percentage points. By the phrase intensely segregated schools, the literature usually is referring to white enrollment below 10 percent.21 Unfortunately, many parts of the North are failing as well, as the northern states and also California rank among the worst for many measures of educational segregation. For instance, let’s consider the variable “% black in 90–100% Minority Schools.”22 That is a measure of levels rather than changes, and by that standard, the five most segregated states are: 1. New York 2. Illinois 3. Maryland 4. Michigan 5. New Jersey.

The future of the country looks troublingly similar on both coasts, as both New York and California perform poorly on segregation measures. In two of the three main measures of educational segregation by race, they are the worst and third-worst states in this regard, alternating those two positions. Again, the claim is not that New York and California are somehow especially racist or objectionable states but rather that segregation is being enforced by incomes, rents, home prices, building codes, how school districts are drawn, and a culture of sorting and matching.

Latinos are experiencing more significant integration problems than are African Americans. For instance, in California, only 7.8 percent of Latino students are in majority-white schools. In part that is because California has large clusters of Latinos and in part because the fanciest white neighborhoods are difficult to afford, the latter again indicating a lot of economically enforced segregation rather than racist animus. The broader data on trends in Latino segregation also are not entirely encouraging, as, for instance, in 1990 Latinos had more residential proximity with whites than they did in the period 2005 through 2009.

What if you’re a rich Silicon Valleyite paying 0 percent income tax thanks to the Qualified Small Business Stock exclusion and featuring yourself on Facebook at a Hillary Clinton fundraiser? Or maybe you’ve got tenure at a major university and therefore could keep watching those direct deposit checks flow into your checking account while you knitted a pussy hat? It turns out that you can advocate for unlimited low-skill dark-skinned immigration to the U.S. without running any risk of having one of the newcomers as a neighbor:

One implication of these measures is that the affluent and well educated in America may be especially out of touch, no matter how ostensibly progressive their politics. A high-income family, for instance, is less likely to live in a mixed-income neighborhood than is a poor family.

Florida and Mellander also find that racial segregation is positively correlated with areas that have a lot of high-tech industry, with those that have a preponderance of people in the so-called creative class, who hold jobs requiring creative skills, and with those heavily populated by college graduates. Segregation also tends to be found in places with relatively high percentages of gay and foreign-born populations—think of San Francisco as having a fair share of both, but also a lot of neighborhoods with mostly white people. Median rent in San Francisco just passed $5,000 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, and so most people, even in the upper-middle classes, feel that residence in the city involves too much financial hardship.

If we look at all metropolitan areas, rather than just the large ones, Durham–Chapel Hill, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor—all college towns—climb into the top five for segregation of the working class away from the non–working class.

many of America’s trendiest cities, including cities with quality universities, are among the most extreme for segregation by socioeconomic class.

For the folks who put up a “no matter where you’re from we’re glad you’re our neighbor” sign in Arabic and Spanish, their most likely readers are Saudi diplomats and Cemex executives.

More: Read The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.


9 thoughts on “Tyler Cowen explains why rich white Democrats freely express love for immigrants and people of color

  1. I have a colleague who lives about a mile from me. When he’s not posting about his kids he puts anti-Trump articles about how it is terrible to build a wall on his facebook page and how great integration is. Anyway, his family is in an elementary school attendance area which is 77% non-Hispanic Caucasian and 13% Asian. How many schools are like that in LA County? answer Of course he supports sending his kids to public schools!

  2. I think it’s been true for quite some time that the South was/is statistically the least segregated part of the country and that deep-blue Northern cities were/are the most segregated; I remember hearing an NPR story on this in the late 90s, and the phenomenon presumably goes back much further than that.

    Are coastal “leftists” who loudly accuse everybody else of racism just a different version of the “anti-gay” politician who gets caught trying to pick up young guys on the internet?

  3. I am roughly @philg’s age and until third grade I attended segregated public schools in LA County. The segregation was achieved via gerrymandering and was so effective that there was only one black child in my primary school in a city which probably had a 30% black population (I couldn’t find historical numbers and the racial demographics have changed considerably since then).

    @philg: Does this post mean we agree that racism is still a “significant” (even if much reduced) problem in the U.S. or do you think that other factors account entirely for the trends identified in the posting?

  4. It always cracked me up when people called Trump (living in Manhattan and Miami) a vile racist, and held up Hillary (lily-white Chappaqua, NY) and Bernie (Vermont) as paragons of racial virtue (at least for white people)

  5. Neal: I would agree with you that racism is a problem. However, it is tough to know how much of it is due to efforts by do-gooders to eliminate racism.

  6. I am pretty old so I have seen lots of changes. As far as I can tell most of this new segregation is driven by sheer population growth in big cities with big monolithic suburbs. People used to live in small towns and small pockets of homes in those small towns were for rich people and other pockets were for poor people and middle class people all right next to each other. There were just not enough rich people to fill up a big suburb. So we were half way integrated in the houses where we lived. And the rich and poor kids all went to the same schools as there was only one middle school and one high school. So that school was fully integrated. It was about 30% Latino and 10 % black and the rest white of mixed income. So we learned to get along early.

    But as I got older and went to college and moved to the big city things changed. I moved to the east side of town that was 95% white. I was middle class and could afford a nice expensive home in a new suburb. Where I moved to was total nice homes for miles and all middle class or rich. So the high school was virtually segregated. Only white kids who lived in expensive homes. The poor kids lived in cheaper neighborhoods on the west side of town as over there was the only place for cheaper housing. And those kids were mostly minorities. And those kids went to high schools over there. So economic segregation occurred and that has created race segregation.

    Small towns still have more mixing of economic classes and races. But so few people live in these small towns that the effects are not seen in the national statistics.

  7. Tribes have been tribes for all time. The rule of law prevents the worst aspects of tribalism but it will continue to exist until it fails to give advantage.

  8. It is unclear why people who want to live and associate with their own kind is a governmental issue. Jews prefer to live among and associate with Jews. Asians with Asians. Hispanics probably with Hispanics. Etc. My NYC public high school was in a predominantly white working class neighborhood. The government bused in black kids from a very different neighborhood to integrate the school. The result was frequent gang violence and animosity. Nothing positive was achieved that i could see.

  9. It’s clear by now that most normal, healthy human beings prefer to live among their own race, including most Mexicans and many blacks. There’s research showing that living in “diverse” areas is stressful and causes people to close up and avoid civic participation. Yet nonthinkers like Cowen continue to write as if it were axiomatic that segregation is a bad thing, and that it’s a moral imperative that we devise policies that will integrate the races (thereby making them all miserable).

    I think that all the Boomers decided during their teens that segregation is inherently evil, and no amount of evidence to the contrary (and much evidence there is) will ever convince them. As with virtually everything that troubles America, we will simply have to wait for all the Boomers to die off so that things can start to get better again.

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