The Big Sort: San Antonio Scores High on Economic Segregation

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Economic segration index US Martin Prosperity Institute

A recent study pegged San Antonio as one of the most economically divided cities in America, topping lists measuring two different types of economic segregation. San Antonio wasn’t alone among Texas cities on the list — four of the top 10 most economically segregated large U.S. metropolitan areas are in Texas: Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas — according to study author and urbanist Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute (“MPI”) at the University of Toronto.

Austin-Round Rock took the top spot on Florida’s list of the 10 large metropolitan areas in the U.S. with the highest levels of economic segregation; San Antonio ranked third, followed by Houston-Sugarland-Baytown at number four, and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington at number seven.

The study focused on how Americans are clustered by income, education and socioeconomic class, and how those three factors together produce economic segregation.

Richard Florida

Richard Florida

“Economic inequality is not an abstract phenomenon,” said Florida in an appearance on MSNBC Thursday. “It’s literally baked into our cities and our neighborhoods. Not only is (economic) segregation growing, it’s also hardening.” Even in affluent cities across America, he said, “You have people living in completely different universes.”

“The big sort” that political scientist Bill Bishop wrote about in his 2009 book of the same name is only getting bigger, as Americans increasingly choose to live around those they most resemble.

“Americans have become increasingly sorted over the past couple of decades by income, education, and class,” according to the MPI report, “Segregated City: The Geography of Economic Segregation in America’s Metros,” prepared by Florida and Charlotta Melander. “A large body of research has focused on the dual migrations of more affluent and skilled people and the less advantaged across the United States. Increasingly, Americans are sorting not just between cities and metro areas, but within them as well.”

Segregation is also cumulative: Segregation in one dimension, especially income, increases the likelihood of educational and occupational segregation, among others, according to the report.

When the Pew Research Center looked at similar trends in a comprehensive study entitled, “The Rise in Residential Segregation by Income” published in 2012, they found San Antonio to be at the top of its “Residential Income Segregation Index” or “RISI” for the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas.

The Pew report focused on the increasing trend of Americans to segregate along income lines, with the wealthiest and the poorest segments being increasingly confined to geographical areas, be they neighborhoods or zip codes, populated almost exclusively by people of similar socio-economic profiles.

Click here to download report. http://martinprosperity.org/content/segregated-city/

Click here to download report.

In the 2012 Pew report, 25% of upper-income San Antonians live in a census tract where a majority of other residents are also upper-income (versus 8% for Boston, 12% for Chicago, or 13% for Philadelphia). Similarly, 38% of lower-income San Antonians live in majority lower-income tracts, according to Pew.

The trend for like collocating with like has been accelerating since the 1980s, and is more pronounced among upper-income neighborhoods than poor neighborhoods, though both have tended to become pockets of sameness. For the past three decades, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Miami, have ranked among the nation’s fastest-growing large metropolitan areas, according to Pew, “fueled in part by an influx of low-skill, low-wage immigrants from south of the border and in part by an influx of high-skill, high-wage workers and well-to-do retirees. These dual migration streams could well have contributed to a rise in residential segregation by income.”

Florida and Mellander found that “economic segregation tends to be more intensive in high-tech, knowledge-based metros,” and is “positively correlated with high-tech industry, the ‘creative class’ share of the workforce, and the share of college grads.” There’s also a correlation with race, especially for people of color who are more likely to live in economically segregated areas, as opposed to whites, and income inequality, “even more so than wage equality,” according to the “Segregated City” report. Economically advantaged residents can, of course, be the most selective about where they choose to live.

Professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University Christine Drennon

Christine Drennon

Christine Drennon, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology at Trinity University and the head of the school's  Urban Studies Program, said she’d read the recent “Segregated City” report with interest.

When asked to explain why several Texas cities, including San Antonio, made the list of most economically segregated U.S. cities, she reached back to the mid-20th century for an explanation, citing “the built environment” and the tendency of home builders and buyers to create pockets of homogeneity over time.

“There’s probably a school district angle on this too,” she said, “but I attribute most of it to our built environments and the years of building homogenous developments.” If you notice in our older, pre-World War II neighborhoods, such as Tobin Hill, there is much more of a mix of housing. Big mansions next door to little bungalows, producing a socioeconomic landscape or geography that is much more ‘mixed-up,’ because we live where we can afford to live.”

Southwestern cities as a whole tended to dominate both the Pew and the MPI lists, and Drennon spoke to that as well. “Northern cities are much older than Southern cities, and have more neighborhoods that are ‘mixed’ like this than we do, thus giving rise to more mixed-income neighborhoods.” she said. “We are trying to craft policy that will ensure that new neighborhoods or developments are mixed income." Existing neighborhoods, she said, “aren’t conducive to that.”

Florida and Mellander’s “Segregated City” report examined three combined measures of income, educational and occupational segregation, and seven individual measures from an “Index of Dissimilarity,” to create the index of overall economic segregation. The Segregated City report used data from more than 70,000 U.S. Census tracts, as well as data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census. Last year San Antonio had the “dubious honor” of being at the top of the list for income segregation, a subset of the broader economic segregation, according to an article in Texas Monthly.

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19 thoughts on “The Big Sort: San Antonio Scores High on Economic Segregation

  1. Sounds like pearl, broadway and hemisfair. ..just like austin. ..we will be #1 again really soon.

    • Ok, those areas are easy targets, but I think that perspective ignores the data. We are far more segregated out in the suburbs than we are in the inner city. We have a bunch of large, master planned communities that actually promote and encourage the segregation. I’d also say that—while this does not offer absolution—both Pearl and especially Hemisfair have done a lot more to create and promote public space; space that’s open and available to anyone. These are not gated communities. All that said, this is a huge city-wide problem and a tough one to address.

  2. A recent study? I swear I saw something like this in a Wired article about a year or so ago. This is old news to me. I guess since most readers live in a bubble it’s hard to notice the reality that some are still struggling and they happen to live down the street.

    • Curious whether you read the article, or just riffed off the first line (some do). It IS a new study — released on February 23rd. Elsewhere Richard Florida says it’s the new work, and last year he published a five-part series on a precursor concept to it. As you say, if people thought about this — they could assume some of the same things. But that’s what research is for — to clarify that and to educate those who otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Also journalism :-).

      • No, I read the article. I don’t have any sources though and I’m not interested in providing any or proving that other similar articles exist.

  3. “When asked to explain why several Texas cities, including San Antonio, made the list of most economically segregated U.S. cities, she reached back to the mid-20th century for an explanation, citing “the built environment” and the tendency of home builders and buyers to create pockets of homogeneity over time.”

    Drennon’s academic paper points to neighborhoods, many in the urban core were restricted to white’s only by DEED Covenants. This creates a systemic wealth advantage for whites in residential equity and a disadvantage for communities of color. In these times, we must mention racism, as it has much to do with determining outcomes of segregation, of wealth and other social injustices. Leaving racial bias out of an article about segregation in America leaves the glaring elephant in the room.

    Here is a copy of Dr. Drennon’s original article for free online:
    http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/30034138?sid=21105593511341&uid=4&uid=3739256&uid=3739920&uid=70&uid=2129&uid=2

    Good source of extra reading on San Antonio and race relations:

    http://colfa.utsa.edu/users/jreynolds/NEH/WWI/WWISOC.htm

    “For more information, go to: http://www.copsmetro.com/

    Also see story from COPS/Metro blog: “COPS / Metro Launches Living Wage Fight” – http://www.copsmetro.com/1406_-_living_wages

    See slideshow of Average Per Capita Income for all ten districts in San Antonio as of 2013: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanantonio/blog/2013/10/san-antonio-demographics-by-city.html

    -from http://www.civiccourt.org/blog/

    • Hi Juana,

      Thanks for your message. Re: “Leaving racial bias out of an article about segregation in America leaves the glaring elephant in the room” — I don’t agree. For one thing, the article is specifically about the new Martin Prosperity Institute research, and its newsworthiness to San Antonio. I would leave it to the authors of that research, who literally studied all the demographic factors they thought were important over the past few years, to come to that conclusion. What Dr. Drennon studies or has written about is also a bit off-topic. She’s brought in to this story to give her feedback on what the results of the study mean locally, and to provide context. But the story is not about her work…it’s about what MPI found.

      Since I’ve seen you do this modified data dump on several stories now as your response, I wonder whether you have an article or commentary in you that you’re dying to write. If so, that could be a good use of the thought process involved. As it is, journalism requires surveying the landscape of facts and opinions and deciding which ones relate to the structure of crafting a story. So choices are being made on every story written (things pulled in, with other things intentionally left out). If you think you’ve got an entirely different angle on this, it might be great to take that and turn it into your own piece. As it is, I’m not finding it as relevant as you are — but maybe you haven’t made the bridge/leap between what was said and what you’re finding and why that relates.

      In general, racial bias is a fascinating topic — and the structural elements of poverty are super-interesting to consider. But…you’d have to argue the missing elements here and I just didn’t find them from the data dump you provided. However, I’d also reiterate — if you know where you’re going with this (or any other story you do this with) — take it to the next step and write an article or a commentary yourself. Then it can be tested as well.

      Best,

      Lily

  4. Initially, I was surprised by many of the findings in this study. Namely, the conclusions that cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago were roughly as segregated as San Antonio, Austin and Houston, and that transit was more closely associated with segregation than auto-dependence. The research concluded Rustbelt cities are more economically segregated than other cities, large cities are more segregated than medium sized and smaller cities, and population density is associated with segregation.

    I think these conclusions are at least partially explained by methodology. According to the Census Bureau, census tracts are designed to be ” … as homogenous as possible with respect to population characteristics, economic status and living conditions.” In other words, this study at least partially examined just how effectively designation of census tracts achieved this objective.

    Because census tracts are relatively small populations, on average 4,000 persons, larger cities are likely better able to achieve the design goal of census tracts to begin with. Also, because census tracts are developed based on population, higher density cities require less geographic area to designate a census tract than lower density cities. For example, New York has a density of 28,000 people per square mile (some areas of the city are as high as 58,000 people per square mile), while San Antonio’s density is just 3,000 people per square mile. As a result, a census tract in New York could be 1/20th the geographic size of a census tract in San Antonio.

    My understanding of the report is that segregation was measured within census tracts. It is possible two adjacent census tracts could be very segregated by income, one low income and the other high income. They would score high on segregation, regardless of whether they were in New York or San Antonio. However, in New York, the geographic size of those tracts could vary widely. In New York, those census tracts could be 1/15th of a square mile while in San Antonio they might be 1.25 square miles. As a result, the two populations in San Antonio could be much more isolated from each other than the two populations in New York.

    Perhaps a more useful assessment would be not only how segregated individual tracts are, but how those tracts fit together in a larger geographic area. I expect the conclusions would be different, and that auto-dependence would no longer look like the transportation system that creates greater heterogeneity.

    • Basically, this study would be better off without the census tracts and it was all a waste of time. It tells us what we have known for decades.

    • Kevin, really interesting response…Are census tracts an outmoded, archaic way of measuring then, and need to be modified? I wonder how that could/would happen (speculatively).

      • I don’t think census tracts are outdated, but I do think it’s important to understand what they are and what it is you are trying to measure. If a census tract is homogenous by design, and what you are trying to measure is homogeneity, then you shouldn’t be surprised when you find high homogeneity within census tracts. I don’t even know that I’d be alarmed by homogeneity in one census tract (approximately 4,000 persons), but I would be alarmed when a lot of contiguous census tracts with high homogeneity have the same social, ethnic and racial characteristics.

        Consider San Antonio. City council districts are roughly the same population, approximately 130,000 persons, and so might consist of 30 census tracts. If you look at a cluster of 4-6 census tracts and see half of those clusters are low income and half are middle or high income, there’s less chance that those in the low income tracts are isolated from the opportunities more likely to exist in tracts with middle or high income residents. However, if all the tracts are all low income or all high income, you might be alarmed. Now extend that approach and look at a larger area. High poverty rates in 30 contiguous census tracts could be strong evidence that those residents are truly isolated from opportunity. Roughly, that’s the reality in San Antonio.

        The authors of this study have the data to extend that analysis, and I think the results would be interesting. I somewhat agree with David Lopez that I can predict the results. However, I agree with you that just because I can predict results doesn’t necessarily my predictions are valid. That’s the value of research.

        Class segregation certainly exists in San Antonio, and I believe it results in a lot social problems that deny low income residents genuine opportunity. However, I also believe the causes for such segregation are complex, and that pressures from both wealthy and poor communities contribute to that segregation. Good research alone won’t solve the problem, but the more evidence you have that the problem exists, and the causes of it, the better chance there is to solve it.

        I believe this research had some weaknesses which might send well-intentioned people down the wrong path to solve a genuine problem.

  5. I don’t claim to be a journalist nor would I consider the job of a journalist to be the description you offered.

    I noticed you did not refute that racism is a historical and present day driver of economic segregation. The study by Richard Florida that you pointed to has also been done by the PEW Center with the same results for past years.

    Not sure if you have read Drennon’s article, which I would consider your duty as a journalist to read the source’s you cite. A central point to her paper and those data that I dump on people are that SA’s communities of color have been the object of racial bias and that is part and parcel of economic segregation.

    If you read her paper or any of the other books or historical documents I provided you would see how they tie in. But I will spell it out. I am assuming you are Chicana from your last name, if not then imagine a friend of yours in 1945. Not being able to buy a house in Beacon Hill, Monte Vista, or many other inner city neighborhoods at that time, because in the deed restrictions it said that no one of color could purchase there. Even with money you would have to buy a less valuable house in a community of color. You pass away and leave a house worth 10K to your son, instead of one worth 40K. Speed up 50 years later, the value of a Monte Vista house has gone up to 400K and a house on the West side is worth approximately a 100K. Is there no room in this for that logic?

    If you take that same scenario post Shelley v. Kramer 1948 (outlawing racial deed restrictions) then you or your friend would have to deal with redlining, non-enforcement by the courts on private sellers and real estate agents who colluded in keeping people of color out many neighborhoods. This inhibited wealth accrual.

    Separating or neglecting these issues leaves people with incomplete pictures, much like the census tracts. If an analysis abut economic segregation is written without race relation context as a component especially about a city that is 63.2% Chicano/Central/South American, 6.9% African American and .9% Native American it leaves itself open to questions about the privilege involved in ignoring these facts.

    Reporting on a report that just came out is fine, but any journalist can do that. Raising the standard involves providing local perspective and that includes the perspective of communities of color.

    Perhaps you would consider the article’s I offer as sources of enlightenment on the perspective of people of color instead of criticizing a lay person for trying to spread knowledge. The folks I cite all know their stuff and are beacons of academia or public intellectuals in SA. Char Miller, Heywood Sanders, Jeanne Jarboe Russell etc. I can not rewrite what they have analyzed about SA and more in these posts so I place them here to provide insight into the historical and present day context.

    • Interesting information in that it provides clarity on some of the policies and biases in the past that led to the present situation, but I also think it is generally well accepted by thoughtful people that the economic and class segregation we see today is tightly aligned with policies of racial segregation in the past. Unfortunately, it’s not the full explanation of economic and class segregation of today, and even more limiting, I’m not seeing proposed solutions, or even acknowledgment of additional factors.

      When you look at the most economically depressed communities in the city today, you see a pattern of events that continues to leave those communities economically depressed. My question is how to bring real and genuine opportunity to those communities? One continuing trend I see is that citizens from those communities who do find success almost unanimously leave those communities, for many understandable reasons. In other words, the perception is few people, as in almost universally no people, live in these economically depressed communities by choice. To compound the problem, when an economically depressed area gains the attention of people with choice, the fear of gentrification and displacement takes hold and creates pressures to resist the influx of people with choice.

      The result seems to be that citizens in the economically depressed communities who gain choice continue to leave, and those outside those communities who might begin to choose these communities are resisted, leaving citizens in these economically depressed communities with less influence and opportunity.

      The problem of people of color having the freedom to purchase homes in nice communities is more or less resolved, but the harder problem of bringing real opportunity to chronically poor communities and retaining the successful people in those communities is far from resolved.

    • You make a lot of assumptions here about what journalists do, who I am or am not (e.g., Chicana), what a journalist’s job is or isn’t (a little confusing once you’ve explained you have no idea what that is, nor is it something you aspire to) — but you’re in error on ALL of those, sorry to say. (As a point of information, thankfully good journalists DO NOT assume.) To be abundantly clear: A journalist does not need to nor do they have time to read everything a person has written who is mentioned as a source in an article — especially if they’ve been interviewed! (Cough, cough — that is what journalists do.) Even social scientists — or scientists of any kind — when they are doing their OWN research — which journalism fundamentally is not — they’re not often familiar with everything about a particular topic — hence the function of a literal “literature review,” which they perform before or instead of undertaking their own research. And one can imagine that review would take months, depending on the complexity of the topic or how much is published in the field on it.

      I’ve posted separately a long excerpt from the underlying MPI report, “Segregated City,” about the relationship to race, which was in the report at page 70. They mention specifically the relationship to Latinos. You might want to read/review that piece of it since you seem to believe the relationship is very strong. BTW, the Pew Report of 2012 is NOT the same as the MPI report of 2015. They explore some common themes. As a journalist, I have read both of those — and interviewed Dr. Drennon. That is a deeper dive than many journalists. This is an interesting topic, and one which can be developed further over time by stakeholders and interested parties.

      Here is specifically what it says about race, in its entirety:

      “4.7 Race
      Race remains a key marker of stratification in American society. A broad body of studies documents the connection between race, poverty, and segregation.33 NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey points out that “two-thirds of black children who were raised in the poorest quarter of U.S. neighborhoods a generation ago now raise their own children in similarly poor neighborhoods.

      About half of all black families have lived in the poorest American neighborhoods over the last two generations, compared to just 7 percent of white families.” 34

      Economic segregation and race are correlated, as we have seen (Exhibit 28, 29, and 30). The Overall Economic Segregation Index is negatively associated with the share of residents that are white (-0.43) and positively associated with the shares that are black (0.29), Latino (0.24) and Asian (0.30).

      Generally speaking, race plays a relatively larger role in educational and occupational segregation than income segregation, with the exception of black population shares. The share of the population that is black is positively related to all three main types of economic segregation. It is slightly more closely related to income segregation, though the differences are modest.

      The Latino share of population is also positively related to all three types of segregation, though it is not statistically associated with the segregation of poverty or of the service class. The Asian share of the population is positively related to educational and occupational segregation, but is not statistically associated with income segregation. This again reflects the effect of the segregation of the wealthy.

      Conversely, the share of the population that is white is negatively associated with all three types of economic segregation—income, educational, and occupational segregation, though it appears to play a larger role in educational and occupational separation than in income segregation. It has a weak relationship to the
      segregation of the poor, where it is statistically insignificant.

      Generally speaking, our findings suggest that the white share of the population plays a relatively greater role in economic segregation than the shares of racial and ethnic minorities.”

  6. Addressing race and economic segregation, from the aforementioned “Segregated City” report:

    “Section 4.7 Race

    Race remains a key marker of stratification in
    American society. A broad body of studies documents
    the connection between race, poverty,
    and segregation.33 NYU sociologist Patrick
    Sharkey points out that “two-thirds of black
    children who were raised in the poorest quarter
    of U.S. neighborhoods a generation ago now
    raise their own children in similarly poor neighborhoods.
    About half of all black families have
    lived in the poorest American neighborhoods
    over the last two generations, compared to just
    7 percent of white families.” 34

    Economic segregation and race are correlated,
    as we have seen (Exhibit 28, 29, and 30). The
    Overall Economic Segregation Index is negatively
    associated with the share of residents that
    are white (-0.43) and positively associated with
    the shares that are black (0.29), Latino (0.24)
    and Asian (0.30). Generally speaking, race
    plays a relatively larger role in educational and
    occupational segregation than income segregation,
    with the exception of black population
    shares. The share of the population that is black
    is positively related to all three main types of
    economic segregation. It is slightly more closely
    related to income segregation, though the differences
    are modest.

    The Latino share of population is also positively
    related to all three types of segregation, though
    it is not statistically associated with the segregation
    of poverty or of the service class. The
    Asian share of the population is positively related
    to educational and occupational segregation,
    but is not statistically associated with income
    segregation. This again reflects the effect of the
    segregation of the wealthy.

    Conversely, the share of the population that
    is white is negatively associated with all three
    types of economic segregation—income, educational,
    and occupational segregation, though
    it appears to play a larger role in educational
    and occupational separation than in income
    segregation. It has a weak relationship to the
    segregation of the poor, where it is statistically
    insignificant.

    Generally speaking, our findings suggest that
    the white share of the population plays a relatively
    greater role in economic segregation than
    the shares of racial and ethnic minorities.”

    (p. 70).

  7. Racism, inequality, poverty are historical and present day factors. And the drivers behind the lack of opportunity to move up the social ladder but not the only ones.

    To deconstruct the entire scale of the structure that keeps oppressed economically or otherwise requires a longer dialogue. And I agree with you it is very complex.

    I will throw as to why we have the highest inequality since the 1930s:
    the current Neoliberal economy – macro level
    local level-policies of SAHA, such as concentrating public housing in areas of high poverty
    statewide- a property tax based mechanism which causes underfunding the public school system in areas with high poverty

    A few solutions to help people mobilize for themselves:
    worker owned co-operatives
    publicly owned bank
    city wide participatory budgeting

  8. One thing I was hoping we’d discuss — for those of us who read the underlying reports cited in the article — was the relative speed at which these developments are happening.

    To quote from the Pew (2012) report, p. 18, re: Houston:

    “As for the share of the upper income residing among the upper income, the direction of change was even more pervasive than the change for lower-income concentration. All of the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas experienced at least some increase during the past 30 years in the share of upper-income living among the upper income. Houston experienced the largest increase (in percentage point terms). In 1980 in Houston, 7% of upper-income households resided in majority upper-income tracts. By 2010, 24% of Houston’s upper-income lived in such tracts. In other metros, the increases were much more modest. ”

    That seemed like a fascinating development to explore further…

  9. Wow – interesting story and comments, and I hope local media will continue to dig into the “built environment” as well as public spending / resource allocation angles of current economic segregation trends in San Antonio.

    There is a concern that various recent publicly-funded or incentivized (tax exempt) projects in San Antonio amount to new-build segregation, gentrification (displacing or burdening residents) or tourist fare not affordable to, welcoming of or otherwise accessible by – and arguably coming at the expense of – many locals and visitors.

    The abnormally large share of poverty (below living) wage work in San Antonio – including many downtown, public facing and City-supported and -subcontracted jobs – as well as poor public infrastructure (limited sidewalk connectivity and public transit services) discourage social inclusion, mobility and more equal access to publicly-funded resources including Hemisfair Park, the Pearl, the Tobin Center, the B-cycle network, the Riverwalk, museums, libraries, parks, schools, universities, etc.

    It’s not just economic segregation in San Antonio but federal, state, and locally-funded economic segregation. We could be getting much more equity with our public expenditures.

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