Poor whites tend to live in more affluent neighborhoods than do middle- class blacks and Latinos, a situation that leaves those minorities more likely to contend with weaker schools, higher crime and greater social problems, according to a new study.
The new research by scholars at the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that the gap separating black and Hispanic neighborhoods from white ones persists up and down the income ladder. A black household with an annual income of $50,000 lives on average in a neighborhood where the median income is under $43,000. But whites with the same income live in neighborhoods where the median income is almost $53,000—about 25 percent higher.
Meanwhile, white families with an annual income of just $13,000 on average live in neighborhoods where the median income is $45,000—slightly higher than the precincts occupied by middle-class blacks and just below that of middle-class Hispanics. The same dynamic holds for households that making $100,000 annually.
"It's relatively well known that black families on average live in poorer neighborhoods, but a lot of people presume that's simply because black families are poorer," said Sean Reardon, one of the study's authors. "But if that were all there was to it, you would find poor whites living in the same kinds of neighborhoods as poor blacks."
The disparities matter when it comes to raising children and building wealth, researchers emphasized. Other studies have found that growing up in very poor neighborhoods exposes children to bad influences and puts them at greater risk of not going to college, earning less in their careers, and being single parents.
"When you look at the evidence of how important neighborhoods are, you really worry about the long-term consequences of these patterns of racial and economic segregation," Reardon said.
The disparities seem to be rooted in three factors: the huge wealth gap separating racial groups. On average blacks have less than eight cents for every dollar held by whites, meaning that even if black families have high incomes they are likely not to have large sums for for things like home down payments and are more likely to carry heavy debt. The trend is similar for Hispanics.
In addition, at least some blacks and Hispanics as well as whites prefer to live in neighborhoods where their race or ethnicity predominates, Reardon said.
Although the problem is troubling a fix is not obvious. Asked what policy makers could to break the pattern, Reardon said: "That's a tricky question."