Rolf Pendall at the Urban Institute has penned some thoughtful critiques of the MI report on segregation. A couple of rejoinders. First of all, Pendall cites seven cities where segregation remains high (Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York). He's absolutely right, segregation remains high in these cities. It is also important to note, however, that since 1950 these seven cities have collectively lost 3.7 million residents. Over a period of time when the nation's total population more than doubled. There are segregated places, but because Americans have been abandoning those places over the long term, segregation is something experienced by a steadily shrinking number of people. And in the end, it is people that matter.
Pendall also argues that we need to continue efforts to desegregate in order to promote racial equality. It is true, and Glaeser and I point out, that integration has brought much less progress toward equality than we had hoped for a half-century ago. Pendall refers to this as "insidious misdirection" but I'd call it blunt honesty. Further progress toward residential integration is both necessary and desireable, but neighborhoods are not really the key to promoting socioeconomic equality. There is plenty of sound evidence to back this up. Consider the Federal Moving To Opportunity demonstration program: relocating families (almost entirely black and Hispanic) from housing projects to low-poverty neighborhoods did nothing to alter their economic self-sufficiency (to be fair, there were some improvements in their housing conditions and mental health).
Yes, racial inequality persists and we need to figure out how to ameliorate it. As many have pointed out, neighborhood integration has not brought school integration -- because districts have stopped busing -- and we need to think carefully about that. But those who think that neighborhood integration is the key to reducing inequality need to take another look at the evidence.