Segregation and Inequality in Public Goods

The forthcoming article “Segregation and Inequality in Public Goods” by Jessica Trounstine is summarized by the author here:

America remains an extremely segregated nation.  Although neighborhood racial segregation has lessened in recent decades, today the typical white American lives in a neighborhood that is about 75% white, while Black, Latino, and Asian Americans live in substantially more integrated places (Logan and Stults 2011). [1] These patterns have created stark divides between white and non-white communities (Enos 2011).   When a city is residentially segregated by race, issues cleave along racial and not just spatial lines and groups are more likely to be intolerant, resentful, and competitive with each other.  The result, is that segregated cities have a high degree of racial political conflict.

In an analysis of 91 mayoral election contests in the 25 largest cities in America, I find that more segregated cities are more likely to witness racially polarized voting.

Note: Predicted marginal effects of regressing racial divide in mayoral vote on segregation with controls for city demographics and governmental institutions. Racial divide in mayoral vote measured as the absolute value of the largest difference in racial group support for winning candidate. Segregation measured using Theil’s H index calculated for two groups (whites and non-whites). Gray shading represents 95% confidence interval

Note: Predicted marginal effects of regressing racial divide in mayoral vote on segregation with controls for city demographics and governmental institutions. Racial divide in mayoral vote measured as the absolute value of the largest difference in racial group support for winning candidate. Segregation measured using Theil’s H index calculated for two groups (whites and non-whites). Gray shading represents 95% confidence interval

I also find that segregated cities spend less on a wide range of services and public goods for their residents.  They raise fewer dollars, and have smaller budgets for roads, law enforcement, parks, sewers, welfare, housing, and community development.

 segregation2
 segregation3  segregation4
 segreation5  segregation6
Note: Figures show predicted relationship between Theil’s H segregation index and per capita spending on public goods in constant 2007 dollars.  Gray shading represents 95% confidence intervals.

Compared to a city in the 25th percentile of segregation (like Palm Bay, Florida, Oregon City, Oregon, or San Louis Obispo, California) a city in the 75th percentile (like Madison, Wisconsin, Scranton, Pennsylvania, or Jersey City, New Jersey) will spend about $100 less per resident each year.  Given that the average per capita expenditure on police is about $180, and about $57 on parks, this difference has the potential to dramatically affect the quality of public goods that individuals experience.

White residents are more likely than people of color to live in cities with low levels of segregation.  So, not only are whites segregated from racial and ethnic minorities within cities, they are also segregated from people of color across city lines.  This fact means that access to public goods is segregated along racial lines as well.  As the nation has become more diverse, it has also become more unequal.  Segregation and access to public goods play important roles in linking these phenomena.

[1]  African Americans, Latinos, and Asians live in neighborhoods that are comprised of 22%-46% of their own group.

The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association. AJPS is published by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing and supported by the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the MSU College of Social Science.


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The Editor of the AJPS is at Michigan State University and the Editorial Office is supported by
the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the School of Social Sciences.

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