How wide are the racial opportunity gaps in your metro?

By Margery Turner :: February 2nd, 2012



In December, MetroTrends graded America’s 100 biggest metros on measures of economic security. Today we offer a new report card, with grades reflecting the opportunity gaps facing African Americans and Latinos.

We’re all well aware of the national story. Despite the huge achievements of the civil rights era, neither African Americans nor Latinos (on average) enjoy the same school quality, job opportunities, or homeownership access as whites. But the picture isn’t the same in every metro area. So our report card scores metros on five factors: residential segregation, neighborhood affluence (for the average black, Latino, and non-Hispanic white), public school quality (for the average black, Latino, and non-Hispanic white student), employment (among working-age adults), and homeownership.

Let’s start by looking at the grades for black-white equity.

Equity for African Americans (click image for interactive map)

Source: Urban Institute analysis of Brown University US2010 and 2010 Census data

Surprised? The top scorers are mostly small- to medium-sized metros in the south and west (Charleston, SC, and Riverside, CA, for example), while the worst performers are big metros in the midwest and northeast (including New York, Boston, and Chicago).

When I first saw these results, I thought perhaps that so few African Americans live in the high-scoring metros that their high performance is irrelevant. For some top scorers (like Albuquerque and San Jose), that’s definitely the case. But lots of other metros scoring As and Bs on this report card have substantial African American populations.

So my second thought was this: maybe outcomes for African Americans are better in big, prosperous metros like New York, Boston, and Chicago, even though the gaps between African Americans and whites are wider there. Not true. Average outcomes for African Americans (on all five factors) are best among metros scoring As and worst among those scoring Fs. African Americans in Charleston, SC, and Oklahoma City are more likely to be employed, own their homes, live in prosperous neighborhoods, and attend high-performing schools than their counterparts in Milwaukee or Boston.

I should note that we’re grading on a curve here. Even in metros scoring As, the average African American lives in a lower-income neighborhood, attends lower-performing schools, is less likely to find a job, and is less likely to own a home than the average white. But these gaps are two to three times wider in the metros scoring Fs.

Now let’s look at the grades for Latino-white equity.

Equity for Latinos (click image below for interactive map)

Source: Urban Institute analysis of Brown University US2010 and 2010 Census data

The overall picture looks pretty similar. And indeed, many metros either score well for both African Americans and Latinos (like Palm Bay, FL, Colorado Springs, and Raleigh, NC) or score poorly for both (like New York, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia). But a few metros—like San Jose, CA—stand out for scoring high on equity for their (small) African American population but low for their (much larger) Latino population. And the reverse is true in metros like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, which perform poorly for African Americans but quite well for Latinos.

You can find any metro’s score (and all the underlying factors) on our map by mousing over and clicking on it. But you can also modify our scoring system. Maybe employment matters more to you than homeownership, or you don’t care about residential segregation at all. Change the relative importance of the five factors in the box, and MetroTrends will recompute the scores and display your new rankings.

Closing these opportunity gaps is no simple matter. And the solutions—such as targeted school investments, fair housing enforcement, and job training—have to be crafted locally to tackle fundamental sources of inequality. So policymakers and civic leaders in metros across the country should be using our report card to challenge themselves, asking “How does our region perform?” and “What can we do to narrow the opportunity gaps in our region?”


  1. Anna Lisa  ::  10:15 am on February 3rd, 2012:

    I typically respect and appreciate the work of UI. I was very surprised to see my community, Austin-RR-SM, receive a “B” for AA equity. The poverty rates alone for Hispanic and African Americans are significantly higher than for Whites (estimated 23% for AA and Hispanic vs. 9% white, 2005-2009 ACS) and those rates increase as you break down by age and gender. (i.e. from the same dataset, 44% of AA children under 5 live in poverty compared to 6% of white children under 5.) I feel confident that anyone who lives/works in the predominately AA communities here will agree that there continues to be significant racial disparity.
    I’m disappointed and surprised that the “grading” isn’t more clearly highlighted on the maps nor mentioned in the article until the sixth paragraph. (“I should note that we’re grading on a curve here. Even in metros scoring As, the average African American lives in a lower-income neighborhood, attends lower-performing schools, is less likely to find a job, and is less likely to own a home than the average white.”)
    I sincerely hope that the policymakers and civic leaders understand the analysis fully before drawing conclusions, especially in my community.
    Why isn’t the grading methodology stated more clearly on the map? Why not clearly state that the average AA in all metros falls below the average on all criteria?

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