“Manhattan Institute report heralding the ‘end’ of segregation uses a measure that masks important demographic and economic trends.” In a study released this week, two Manhattan Institute researchers heralded the “end of the segregated century.” Harvard professor Edward Glaeser and Duke professor Jacob Vigdor showed that African American segregation levels have now declined to their lowest point since 1920, just after the beginning of the “Great Migration” of rural sharecroppers from the South to Northern industrial metropolitan regions.
From 2010 Census data, professors Glaeser and Vigdor calculate changes in what sociologists term “dissimilarity indices.” They find a national dissimilarity (or segregation) rate of about 55 percent for African Americans—in other words, “only” 55 percent of African Americans would now have to move to neighborhoods with more non-blacks in order to evenly distribute the black population throughout all neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas. This is a substantial decline from the segregation level of about 80 percent in 1970.
The report attributes this success primarily to legal prohibitions on housing discrimination. The Manhattan Institute aggressively promoted its report, which was then heavily covered in the media with headlines like “Segregation Curtailed in U.S. Cities, Study Finds” and “Study finds black segregation lowest in century,” and with celebratory op-eds by the report’s authors (“Desegregation Is an Unsung U.S. Success Story”; “Why Your Block is More Integrated”).