Racial and ethnic integration is increasing in the United States, but not in the way you may think. In the last 30 years, typical white Americans have seen little change in the race of people they encounter near their homes. White and black people are not integrating. Nor are whites integrating with other nonwhites. But residential mixing among nonwhites is on the rise. As the United States has grown more diverse, it has moved from being “two societies, one black, one white,” in the words of the famous Kerner Commission, to two societies, white and nonwhite.
Since 1980 blacks have progressively lived in less heavily black neighborhoods and whites in less white neighborhoods, but the percentage of African Americans in the neighborhood of the typical white American has barely moved. In the hundred largest metropolitan areas, where most whites and blacks live, the exposure of the average white person to black people has risen by two percentage points, from 5.5 percent in 1980 to 7.6 percent today.
The decline of isolation among African-Americans since 1980 has been overwhelmingly due to the growth of Latino populations in black neighborhoods. The presence of Latinos in black neighborhoods has doubled since 1980, from 8.2 to 16.4 percent. Similarly, the declining homogeneity of white neighborhoods does not reflect the long-sought residential integration of whites and blacks, but instead the influx of Latinos into white neighborhoods. In 1980 Latinos were 5.5 percent of residents in majority-white neighborhoods. Today they are 11.2 percent.
In addition to the story about the lack of black-white integration, these numbers tell us at least two things. First, the integration of whites and Latinos lags behind the integration of Latinos and other groups. Second, the integration of African Americans into wider American society lags behind that of other groups. The causes of this phenomenon are complex, but the general trend is simple—and troubling: while African Americans are now being joined by a population of immigrants, white America remains relatively separate and unaware of the changing nature of American cities.
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Correction: An earlier edition of this article misattributes the phrase “two societies, one black, one white,” to the Moynihan Report. The phrase appears in the report of the Kerner Commission.