Residential segregation in the United States

Residential segregation in the United States is the physical separation of two or more groups into different neighborhoods,[1] or a form of segregation that "sorts population groups into various neighborhood contexts and shapes the living environment at the neighborhood level".[2] While it has traditionally been associated with racial segregation, it generally refers to any kind of sorting based on some criteria populations (e.g. race, ethnicity, income).[3]

While overt segregation is illegal in the United States, housing patterns show significant and persistent segregation for certain races and income groups. The history of American social and public policies, like Jim Crow laws and Federal Housing Administration's early redlining policies, set the tone for segregation in housing. Trends in residential segregation are attributed to suburbanization, discrimination, and personal preferences. Residential segregation produces negative socioeconomic outcomes for minority groups. Public policies for housing attempt to promote integration and mitigate these negative effects.


Race based residential segregation in American cities dates from the rapid urbanization which occurred in the last years of the 19th and the first years of the 20th century. Prior to that time, the African-Americans who lived in cities lived in scattered locations. Development of segregated residential neighborhoods was associated with massive influxes of European immigrants and African-Americans. These groups had limited funds and job opportunities and ended up clustered in neighborhoods with poor housing. These neighborhoods were characterized by social unrest and diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis. Progressive social reformers attempted to ameliorate these conditions, but were unsuccessful, particularly with respect to African-Americans.[citation needed] Around 1910 they turned to efforts to contain the problems in segregated neighborhoods. The first ordinance establishing segregated neighborhoods was passed in Baltimore in 1910. Overt ordinances were struck down in Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917) but the practice continued and became deeply ingrained in urban culture, resulting in limited housing for an expanding population and development of the African-American ghetto with poor overcrowded housing and numerous social ills.[4] In large part, residential discrimination was driven by school segregation which was legal until Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954 but has persisted due to continuing segregated residential patterns in most American cities to the present.[5]

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