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Robert Reich: Economic Apartheid in America

June 29, 2015 in Blogs

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

Despite social advances, racial segregation exists on a much larger geographic scale than ever before.

Almost lost by the wave of responses to the Supreme Court’s decisions last week upholding the Affordable Care Act and allowing gays and lesbians to marry was the significance of the Court’s third decision – on housing discrimination. 

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court found that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 requires plaintiffs to show only that the effect of a policy is discriminatory, not that defendants intended to discriminate.

The decision is important in the fight against economic apartheid in America – racial segregation on a much larger geographic scale than ever before. 

The decision is likely to affect everything from bank lending practices whose effect is to harm low-income non-white borrowers, to zoning laws that favor higher-income white homebuyers.

First, some background. Americans are segregating ever more by income in terms of where we live. 

Thirty years ago most cities contained a broad spectrum of residents from wealthy to poor. Today, entire cities are mostly rich (San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle) or mostly impoverished (Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia).

Because a disproportionate number of the nation’s poor are black or Latino, we’re experiencing far more segregation geographically. 

Which is why, for example, black students are more isolated today than they were 40 years ago. More than 2 million black students now attend schools where 90 percent of the student body is minority.

According to a new study by Stanford researchers, even many middle-income black families remain in poor neighborhoods with low-quality schools, fewer parks and playgrounds, more crime, and inadequate public transportation. Blacks and Hispanics typically need higher incomes than whites in order to live in affluent neighborhoods.

To some extent, this is a matter of choice. Many people prefer to live among others who resemble them racially and ethnically.

But some of this is due to housing discrimination. For example, a 2013 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that realtors often show black families fewer properties than white families possessing about the same income and wealth.

The income gap between poor minority and middle-class white communities continues to …read more


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