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African-Americans experienced modest but consistent declines in residential segregation from 1980 to 2000, according to a two-year analysis of census data by the U.S. Census Bureau. The study found that segregation patterns were mixed for Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians and Alaska Natives. Despite the declines, African-Americans remained the most highly segregated group.
"This is one of the most exhaustive studies of residential segregation ever undertaken," said Daniel H. Weinberg, co-author with John Iceland of the report, Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000. The authors said that residential segregation may result from a variety of factors, including choices people make about where they want to live, restrictions on their choices or lack of information. The report, however, limits its focus to the measurable extent of segregation according to five objective indices - dissimilarity (evenness), isolation (exposure), delta (concentration), absolute centralization and spatial proximity (clustering).
The dissimilarity index, the most widely-used, measures the percentage of a group's population that would have to change residence for each neighborhood to have the same percentage of that group as the metropolitan area overall. African Americans, the largest minority group in 1980 and 1990, showed a significant decline in dissimilarity.
The one index where only African Americans experienced declines, the study said, was in isolation or exposure, i.e., the degree of potential contact between minority and majority group members. This measure increased for Asians and Hispanics mainly because of major increases in their populations due to immigration since 1980.
Declines in segregation were most evident in absolute centralization, the degree to which a group is located near the population center of an urban area. All groups showed declines in this measure over the 1980 to 2000 period.
The study focused on metropolitan areas, using constant June 30, 1999, boundaries, but also examined selected metropolitan areas, where the minority group consists of at least 20,000 people or 3 percent of the total 1980 population. The unit of analysis was the census tract, which typically encompasses between 2,500 and 8,000 people and is intended to represent a neighborhood.
The report, based on data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses, includes representations of residential segregation in the form of graphs and maps.
Because the base data are from the decennial census, they have no sampling error and conventional tests of significance do not apply. However, the data are subject to nonsampling error.
(Note to editors: The values and ranks reported for metropolitan statistical areas on the several indices could be misinterpreted as indicating that residential segregation is a more serious problem in some metropolitan areas and a less serious problem in others. The reported measures cannot sustain such inferences or interpretations.)