Monday, November 21, 2011

America - Segregation is Back

The United States has been wrestling with racial segregation for decades and, while considerable progress has been made in some areas, plenty remains to be fixed.   But a new form of segregation is on the rise - wealth segregation.  The gap between rich and poor is more than statistical.

A study by Brown University finds that income segregation is quickly rising in the US.   It found that, in 1970, only 15% of Americans lived in communities that would be considered "affluent" or "poor."  By 2010 those percentages had doubled.  "Affluent" was defined as neighbourhoods in which the median income was 150% or more higher than the median income of their metropolitan areas.  "Poor" was a neighbourhood with a median income 67% or less than the median of its metropolitan area.   The rest lived in neighbourhoods of mixed income.

In other words, the rich are far more likely today to live with their own kind as are the poor. The report's authors found that the isolation of the rich today is much more intense than the evolving isolation of the poor.

The increasing concentration of income and wealth in a small number of neighborhoods,” the two authors note, “results in greater disadvantages for the remaining neighborhoods where low- and middle-income families live.”

In 1991, Robert Reich defined the trend as the "succession of the successful."

While gated communities have become fairly commonplace, they're now being superceded by gated municipalities with their own schools, fire, police and utilities services.   Within these muni-bubbles, the affluent essentially take care of themselves, free of the burden of supporting the less fortunate.  It is a money-saving option for those with all the money.   It also undermines social cohesion which, as argued here many times, is going to be one of the most critical factors in meeting the looming challenges of the 21st century.   This is not the moment in time for America to embrace a "let them eat cake" mentality.

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