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How Racial Segregation Contributes to Minority’s Poverty? Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 26th, 2020


Racial segregation has been the proverbial thorn in the flesh of the American society. A basic definition of racial segregation states that it is the separation of people along racial lines (Schelling 488). The separation of races would not be so much of an issue, were it not for the fact that, with racial segregation, comes some negative social aspects. Such include discrimination, stigma associated with being from an inferior race and limited socioeconomic opportunities (Williams 173).

This research paper seeks to determine the contribution that racial segregation has towards concentrated poverty in minority communities. In a research sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau, it is revealed that while Asians and white Americans are more likely to live in areas with low poverty rates, American Indians, African Americans and people of Hispanic origins are over-represented in high poverty areas (Bishaw 6). Additionally, people from minority racial groups are under-represented in areas that register low poverty rates.

In 1987, W. J. Wilson (cited by Sampson and Wilson 42) tried to explain the link between racial segregation and concentrated poverty. W. J. Simpson argued that racial segregation leads to concentration effects whose presence in the society is manifest in social deviance, poor job networks, low rates of school involvement, and none exposure to role models (Sampson and Wilson 42).

Walks and Bourne (275) also note that there are strong neighborhood effects that emerge when people from one racial group live together. Racial concentration in wealthy neighborhoods, for example, increases the chance that a person living therein will have better socioeconomic opportunities compared to a person living in poor neighborhoods.

This research paper uses a review of existing literature to establish how racial segregation contributes to concentrated poverty in minority communities. The paper finds out that racial segregation has among other things compromised the political representation of minority communities.

Additionally, racial segregation has affected vital social services such as education. In the discussion section, the paper indicates that living in a poor neighborhood increases the chances that one will grow up as a poor person. The foregoing observation is true if one is to consider findings that indicate that poor education services are a predictor of poverty.

In the conclusion section, the paper argues that racial segregation though a contributor to concentrated poverty in minority communities, is a social issue that arguably cannot be legislated. The paper, therefore, recommends that government should pursue other options in order to alleviate poverty among minority communities. The paper also recommends future research to concentrate on identifying how governments and other stakeholders in the society can enhance racial integration in the American society.

Literature review

The Civil Rights Act that was enacted in 1968 in the US made discrimination illegal during the sale or renting of a house (Williams and Collins 405). The foregoing Act notwithstanding, integrated neighborhoods are still a mirage for most Americans, and especially those who belong to minority communities. Consequently, a great percentage of members of minority communities still live in poor neighborhoods, not by choice, but because they cannot afford better lifestyles.

As Massey and Denton (American Apartheid 85) noted in a research done among black and white Americans, more black people are willing to live in integrated communities compared to their white counterparts. On their part, Lichter, Parisi and Taquino (368) note, “most impoverished racial and ethnic minority populations live in geographically isolated rural areas.” African Americans, Hispanics, and Native American Indians are specifically the minority communities that are racially segregated, and who experience the worst form of concentrated poverty.

Further, Lichter, Parisi and Taquino (368) found out that living in poor areas worsened the situation for minority communities since such areas have registered poor health, low earnings, low education, and high employment dislocation. Arguably, therefore, minority communities are exposed to recognized risks, simply because they are segregated into communities that register the foregoing identified factors.

Racial segregation impacts negatively on educational opportunity (Williams and Collins 406). One of the main reasons why education is affected by racial segregation is that schools are funded using community resources. A school in an affluent neighborhood is, therefore, likely to get more funding for infrastructure development and enhancement of student learning. The reverse is true for schools located in poor neighborhoods.

As Williams and Collins (43) note “public schools with high proportions of Blacks and Hispanics are dominated by poor children”. It is not a coincidence that students in such schools are poor; rather, it is a reflection of the poverty among the communities that they come from. Notably, poverty is not the preserve of the minority communities only; rather, poverty exists among white American families too.

The only difference between poor white students and poor students from minority communities is that the former reside in ‘desirable’ neighborhoods. Notably, and unlike the poor white families in the US, poor people from the Black and Hispanic communities educate their children in the same poor neighborhoods.

The foregoing situation is unlike what is registered among the poor white American populations; even though they are poor, they do not always live in poor neighborhoods and they send their children to good public schools. Only one-third of poor white families educate their children in schools in poor neighborhoods (Quillian 355).

The kind of school a student attends affects their economic welfare in future because as Williams and Collins (406) note, segregated schools are characterized by “lower test scores, fewer students in advanced placement courses, more limited curricula, less qualified teachers, less access to academic counseling, fewer connections with colleges and employers…and higher dropout rates”.

When combined, all the aforementioned factors place students in segregated communities at a disadvantage. Resultantly, the students are less likely to graduate from high school or enroll in college. In the end, such students have lower chances of getting into good jobs, hence meaning that their income levels will not be any better than their parents’ current earnings.

Racial segregation has historically condemned some minority communities to a life of joblessness and poverty (Quillian 354). One such minority community is the African American community in the US, which has historically registered high rates of educational, social and economic failure.

Arguably, concentrated poverty and racial segregation have a historical genesis, whereby, upon emancipation from slavery, most African-Americans did not have the education or skills to enable them secure well-paying jobs. Consequently, they took low paying jobs, and settled in poor neighborhoods because that is all they could afford. Although Hispanics do not have a history in slavery, Quillian (355) notes that they too “live in working-class or poor neighborhoods and send their children to high-poverty schools.”

Williams and Collins (406-407) offer a different but equally valid perspective by indicating that social isolation, which results from racial segregation, can induce responses that weaken community norms in a racially segregated community. For example, a community that previously had a strong work ethic may end up losing the same through a combination of frustrated dreams and lack of opportunities. In the end, such a community is caught in a web of poverty.

In an attempt to explain why racial segregation is so pervasive in America, Massey and Denton (American Apartheid 83) notes that in the African American community, the isolation was achieved through a combination of factors. The factors include “racist attitudes, private behaviors and institutional practices” (Massey and Denton American Apartheid 83).

All the aforementioned factors disenfranchised the minority African American community from accessing modern housing, and as a result, poor housing in the form of ghetto emerged. Discrimination from the white Americans further worsened the economic situation of the African Americans because they could not access jobs, nor enroll their children in good schools.

The white Americans also avoided neighborhoods that were occupied by African Americans, and as a result, the country had patterns “of intense racial isolation that could only be described as hypersegregation (sic)” (Massey and Denton American Apartheid 83).

Massey, Gross and Eggers (397) have also developed a theoretical model that connects residential segregation to concentrated poverty in specific areas in the US. The three authors argue that residential segregation worsens the socioeconomic deprivation among communities, and this only aggravates the poverty therein (Massey, Gross and Eggers 398).

Massey and Denton (802) note that since the 1970’s segregation in America has worsened. The two authors cite five social areas that have arguably contributed to increased racial segregation. The identified areas include the US economy, social class, federal law, immigration and public attitudes (Massey and Denton 802).

The authors argue that as anti-discrimination laws were enforced in the 1970s, racial groups that were previously denied specific legal rights started enjoying the same. However, with more freedom came a chance to earn more decent income. The emergence of a middle-income class among the African American community, for example, saw a significant number of them move away from the poor neighborhoods.

The foregoing movement meant that instead of investing their incomes in the poor areas they lived in, most people who had improved earnings chose to move to more affluent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, when resources are not invested in poor neighborhoods, the social and economic outcomes are likely to remain the same. If, for example, there no infrastructure development in poor areas, unemployment in such areas remains high, the quality of education does not improve, and the cycle of poverty is never broken.

Social class is also an issue that Massey and Denton (American Apartheid 84) have addressed. The authors indicate that the US society is not only status-conscious, but market driven too. Consequently, people belonging to different social classes do not always mix especially in matters related to schooling and housing. The prevailing residential patterns in the US today are, arguably, partly a result of the social status of different racial groupings.

Blacks, Hispanics, and Indians were economically disadvantaged compared to the white Americans. The African Americans, for example, had a dark history in slavery, and even upon emancipation, poverty has still persisted in the community.

It is argued that part of the reason poverty is still high among African Americans is because they have not been able to access equal opportunities in areas such as education and employment (Massey and Denton American Apartheid 84). There are also sentiments that indicate that subtle and overt prejudice and discrimination against the African American community still exist (Massey and Denton American Apartheid 84).

It has been established that minority groups, who are also poor, are not as active in politics compared to the white Americans (Williams and Collins 409). The importance of political representation in fighting poverty is underscored by Lichter, Parisi and Taquino (364) who note that in some places in the US, political decision makers exclude minority communities and the poor.

The authors specifically point out “persistent poverty among minority populations is driven by political and economic processes rather than narrowly defined neighborhood dynamics” (Lichter, Parisi and Taquino 368). The foregoing argument means that the issues that the minority communities face do not get as much advocacy from the lawmakers as would have been the case if they (the minority communities) were adequately represented in politics.

Williams and Collins (409) note that without proper political representation, services to poor areas by the government can be reduced easily, and without much political opposition. Such reductions are a disinvestment in areas that should otherwise enjoy more investment. Consequently, areas where minority communities live are characterized by poor environment and an equally poor urban infrastructure. The quality of life is also much lower compared to the quality of life in areas occupied by the white Americans.

Racial segregation creates four distinct neighborhoods. They include “poor black areas, poor white areas, “rich” (non-poor) black areas, and “rich” non-poor) white areas (sic)” (Massey 335-336). The author further notes that unlike the poor African Americans, the poor white Americans are not confined to poor neighborhoods; consequently, they are exposed to better infrastructure and services.

Such exposure improves their chances of overcoming poverty. The foregoing argument is especially relevant to school-going children, whose chances in leading better lives than their parents is improved by the mere fact that they study in good schools. Such schools have qualified teachers and proper educational facilities.

With spatially concentrated poverty in neighborhoods occupied by minority communities, Massey (337) notes that racial segregation also “focuses and exacerbates any change in the economic status of minority groups”. Unfortunately, positive changes, (e.g. rising employment among members of a minority racial grouping) do not have major positive effects on minority communities. On the other hand, negative changes often have more obvious effects.

Negative changes in the past have included mechanization of industries and closing down of industrial plants. The foregoing changes lead to downsizing of employees. In the end, minority workers who do not have the necessary skills always end up losing their jobs. Unfortunately, job losses not only affect individuals, but the whole community.

The foregoing situation occurs because loss of jobs leads to loss of disposable incomes, something that in the end suppresses the economy of the minority communities’ neighborhoods. Massey (342) offers an arguably accurate description of what happens when negative changes occur in poor minority communities.

He says “reduced buying power, increased welfare dependence, high rates of family disruption, elevated crime rates, housing deterioration, elevated infant mortality rates, and decreased educational quality” are the effects of negative changes in a minority community (Massey 342). In other words, racial segregation destabilizes the socioeconomic environment in minority neighborhoods, hence making them vulnerable to negative shifts in the economy.

Massey and Fischer (671) have found evidence indicating that as segregation increases, poverty rises in minority communities. Racial segregation, for example, intensifies the minority communities’ disadvantage in such areas as education.

Specifically, poor education facilities make it hard for most students who study therein to full concentrate or get all the necessary knowledge, hence compromising their grades. Without good grades, such students do not enroll in colleges. Without a college education, they cannot compete effectively in the job market. Consequently, they work low-paying jobs and the poverty cycle goes on from one generation to another.

In a review of the Canadian context, Walks and Bourne (276) note that racial segregation implies that the assimilation has failed. Although racial and ethnic enclaves may have a positive implication on the culture and group identity of minority communities, they become problematic when people do not voluntary join such enclaves. In the American context, for example, Massey (342) notes that the people in the minority communities would prefer to live in more racially integrated neighborhoods.

The white Americans, unfortunately, register some reluctance when racially integrated neighborhoods are suggested. In the US, racial segregation has a historical aspect to it; arguably, most of it is as a result of the White majority refusing to integrate with the minority communities based on their racial identities (Walks and Bourne 276). Racial concentration in specific areas is mainly occasioned by discrimination, and the fact that members of a racial minority group get a sense of belonging among their peers.

The spatial mismatch has also been used to explain why poverty is concentrated among racially segregated minority communities (Boustan 330). The foregoing theory emphasizes the fact that minority communities often live far from areas where employment opportunities are found. Their places of residence make it hard for them to learn about new employment opportunities. On the other hand, those who already have jobs have to pay more in commuting costs.

Bouston (330) further found out that the farther a firm was located from minority communities, the less likely it was for that firm to employ members of such communities. Neighborhood effects may also partially affect the concentration of poverty in racially segregated areas.

According to Bouston (331), racial segregation means that people from minority communities do not have many outside contacts. Failure to have contact with people from the white American population, who have contacts in the labor force, arguably means that, minority communities would not know when new job opportunities arise.

Overall, it appears that no reason can fully explain why racial segregation contributes to concentrated poverty in minority communities. The foregoing notwithstanding, there is enough evidence herein that racial segregation does indeed contribute to concentrated poverty. As Bouston (332) notes, however, racial segregation is not something that the American society can address through urban planning or public policy.

Urban planning targeting minority communities would have been a good solution were it not for the legal constraint that prohibits race-based housing. Arguably, racial segregation is to a great extent a result of racial pathologies that have developed over the years among the majority white communities and the minority communities alike.

On one hand, the majority white community has discriminatory tendencies towards the minority communities; on the other hand, the minority communities find a sense of belonging in living on racially homogenous enclaves. The foregoing notwithstanding, Karlsen and Nazroo (628) observe that racism is not only evident in discrimination and interpersonal violence but in socioeconomic disadvantage.

Inequities in sectors such as medical care, neighborhoods and socioeconomic indicators have also been found to be more common in areas that have a high population concentration of minority communities (Williams and Jackson 325). Arguably, concentrated poverty in minority communities is evidence that indeed racial segregation can lead to socioeconomic disadvantage.


As the literature review section reveals, racial segregation occurs because of social pathologies that have for a long time denied the minority communities a chance to get better in life through education. Without a good education, members of the minority communities are unable to get good incomes, which trap them in a cycle of poverty and living in the same poor neighborhoods.

Without proper education, minority groups are not adequately represented in US politics, and this means that funding for specific infrastructures can be reduced without opposition. When such a reduction happens, the socioeconomic status of the minority neighborhoods is compromised.

A search through literature further reveals that although researchers have suggested several possible ways of ending racial segregation (e.g. indirect solution, people-based solutions, and place-based solutions) most of them ignore the sociological origins of racial segregation.

Recently, Boustan (330) noted that in neighborhoods where racial integration is gaining pace, people from the white racial divide are relocating to other areas where racial integration is not so common. In other words, the economic upward mobility of minority communities is discomforting to the white Americans so much that, some people are willing to relocate rather that stay in the same neighborhoods with people from minority communities.

Wilson (14) suggests several interventions that could improve the concentration of poverty in minority communities. He suggests that racial discrimination especially in employment and the real estate sectors should be combated (Wilson 23). While it is illegal to deny someone employment or a rental house on the basis of their racial affiliation, Wilson (23) observes that such practices are still common albeit in a concealed manner.

Through a research featuring true stories, Yinger (4) found out “African American and Hispanic American households often encounter” unfavorable treatment by White real estate agents when searching for houses to rent or purchase. Specifically, it did not matter how much money the Blacks, Hispanics or Latinos had, real estate agents were found to favor (in terms of showing different house and offering call back services) the White majority compared to members of the minority communities (Yinger 4).

Notably, housing discrimination leads to other forms of segregation (e.g. segregation in schools). Segregation in schools, on the other hand leads to negative labor market outcomes for members of the minority communities. Together, all the foregoing factors enhance the unbroken concentrated poverty in minority communities.

The second suggestion that has been offered to end poverty in racially segregated neighborhoods is to revitalize such neighborhoods by eliminating “abandoned buildings and vacant lots” (Wilson 23). Through such revitalization, there is a possibility that the neighborhoods where the minority communities live would be attractive to investors. New investments would create jobs for the residents and improve the quality of people living therein.

The foregoing suggestion would, however, not solve the racial segregation issue, especially if the investors are not from the white Americans. The foregoing notwithstanding, new investments would improve the socioeconomic statuses of minority communities, and this would alleviate the poverty levels therein.

Arguably, and although this would take a longer time, socioeconomic improvement would naturally lead to higher education standards, which would in turn mean that more minority students would go to college. Education will arguably enhance the possible income that such students will earn in the future, making it more likely that they would infuse more money into the minority communities’ neighborhoods.

Training members of minority communities in order to make them more employable has also been identified as one of the possible ways of improving the poverty situation among racially segregated communities in the US (Wilson 23). Upon training, such people would probably be more employable, hence enabling them to access incomes. Improved earnings would in turn increase the disposable incomes among members of minority communities.

Training on its own, however, would not improve the poverty outcomes in minority communities. Federal and regional governments would need to open investment opportunities in such areas so that industries and service providing companies would employ the trained community members.

Improvement of public education services is also another suggested solution to concentrated poverty in minority communities (Wilson 23). Currently, education services are funded through community resources, and this only means that a poor neighborhood can only afford to direct a measly amount of funds to the education sector.

Wilson (23) observes that once public education is improved, many of the students studying therein will most likely secure stable and well-paying jobs in the economy, which will in turn contribute to the alleviation of poverty in minority communities. It is worth indicating that while each state is charged with the responsibility of maintaining and operating public schools, the federal government should not pay a blind eye to schools that have a historical disadvantage. Schools in minority communities fit the historically disadvantaged category.

Finally, it has been suggested that strengthening labor unions will provide a short-term solution to the poverty situation in minority communities (Wilson 23). Labor unions were (and still could be) vital in agitating for worker benefits, which include enhanced wages and job security for most of the low-skilled workers in minority neighborhoods. With better pay, the workers would have more disposable incomes.


In conclusion, it is important to note that while racial segregation has negative implications in the American society, the government cannot legislate on the choices that people make. If White people do not want to interact and integrate with people from minority communities, there is nothing much the government can do. However, it is important for government to enforce the laws that protect minority communities from discrimination in such areas as employment and education.

It is also important for the government to realize that concentrated poverty affects the minority communities most, but it also has an effect on the larger US economy. A point in case would be the millions of taxpayers’ money that goes into welfare programs such as food stamps.

If the government invests enough in infrastructure development in the poor neighborhoods, the number of people dependent on government social welfare programs will arguably decrease considerably. Such reduction would in turn enable the government to redirect the taxpayers’ money to other social issues.

The suggestions made in the discussion section above are made in recognition that racial segregation is a social issue that the government, however well-intending it may be, cannot legislate. The literature review section has determined that indeed, racial segregation contributes to concentrated poverty in minority communities. Different authors featured in this research paper reveal that racial segregation has limited the social facilities (most especially schools) that minority communities have access to.

Racial segregation has also made it difficult for minority populations to get gainful employment. The lack of gainful employment affects the economy of minority neighborhoods hence making them sink deeper into poverty. Racial segregation also makes it hard for minority groups to get political representation either from within or from the White majority.

Arguably, the findings in this paper are not entirely new; as implied by the use of different authors in the literature review section, different researchers have always established a connection between racial segregation and concentrated poverty in specific areas of the US. The main question that remains unanswered, however, is whether government or other players in the society can help foster more racial integration in the American society.

The answer to the foregoing question is pertinent because it would offer hope that concentrated poverty in minority communities will be dealt with in the future. The aforementioned question arguably provides the basis for future research. Until the answer to that question is found, the government and different stakeholders in the private sector can try tackling concentrated poverty by empowering the minority communities.

Works Cited

Bishaw, Alemayehu. “Areas with Concentrated Poverty: 2006-2010.” United States Census Bureau (2011): 1-10. Print

Boustan, Leah Platt. Racial Residential Segregation in American Cities. Oxford: Oxford Uni. Press, 2012. Print.

Karlsen, Saffron and James Y. Nazroo. “Relation between Racial Discrimination, Social Class, and Health among Ethnic Minority Groups.” American Journal of Public Health 92.4 (2002): 624-631. Print

Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi and Michael C. Taquino. “The Geography of Exclusion: Race, Segregation, and Concentrated Poverty.” Social Problems 59.3 (2012): 364-388. Print.

Massey, Douglas S and Mary J. Fischer. “How Segregation Concentrates Poverty.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 23.4 (2000): 670-691. Print

Massey, Douglas S. “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.” The American Journal of Sociology 96.2 (1990): 329-357. Print.

Massey, Douglas S. and Nancy A. Denton. “Trends in the residential Segregation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians: 1970-1980.” American sociological review 6.4 (1987): 802-825. Print

Massey, Douglas S. and Nancy A. Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard: Harvard Uni. Press, 1993. Print.

Massey, Douglas S, Andrew B. Gross and Mitchell L. Eggers. “Segregation, the Concentration of Poverty, and the Life Chances of Individuals.” Social Science Research 20.4 (1991): 397-420. Print.

Quillian, Lincoln. “Segregation and Poverty Concentration: The Role of Three Segregations”. Am Sociol Rev. 77.3 (2012): 354–379. Print.

Sampson, Robert and William Wilson. “Toward a theory of Race, Crime and Urban Inequality.” In Hagan, John and Ruth Peterson (Eds.). Crime and Inequality (37-54). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995. Print.

Schelling, Thomas C. “Models of Segregation.”The American Economic Review 59.2 (1969): 488-493. Print.

Walks, Alan and Larry Bourne. “Ghettos in Canada’s Cities? Racial Segregation, Ethnic Enclaves and Poverty Concentration in Canadian Urban Areas.”The Canadian Geographer 50.3 (2006): 273-297. Print.

Williams, David and Chiquitta Collins. “Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental Cause of Racial Disparities in Health”. Public Health Rep. 116.5, (2011): 4–416. Print.

Williams, David R and Pamela Braboy Jackson. “Social Sources of Racial Disparities in Health.” Health Affairs 24.2 (2005): 325-334. Print.

Williams, David R. “Race, socioeconomic status, and health the added effects of racism and discrimination.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 896.1 (2009): 173-188. Print.

Wilson, William. “Being Poor, Black and American – The Impact of Political, Economic, and Cultural Forces.” American Educator Spring (2011): 10-26. Print.

Yinger, John. Closed Doors, Opportunities Lost: The Continuing Costs of Housing Discrimination. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1995. Print.

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