10 Most Segregated American Cities

World Money

More than 50 years after Martin Luther King made his famous speech ‘I Have a Dream’ looking toward a hopeful future of racial equality and integration, segregation remains an insidious issue in the United States. The spectacular failure of the ‘Equal but Separate’ pre-civil rights doctrine illustrated that true equality between races is impossible when they are separate; yet, in many cities, unofficial racial segregation still exists. This results in issues of unemployment and crime, with those living in different areas not given the same opportunities.

50 years ago, 20% of America’s urban neighbourhoods had no black residents; today African-Americans can be found in 199 of every 200 neighbourhoods, demonstrating a promising shift towards a fully integrated America. However, the average black American’s neighbourhood is 45% black. If there truly was no segregation, the average neighbourhood would in fact be only 13% black; these statistics demonstrate that there is still a long way to go.

Although the current data is worrying, there has been a slow decline in segregation across America since 2000. In the space of ten years the average black citizen’s neighbourhood has moved from 49% black to 46%, and the average white person’s neighbourhood has gone from 81% white to 79%. These changes are small, but they represent a move in the right direction.

The percentage given for each city on our list identifies the proportion of people who would have to move in order to eliminate segregation. A score above 60% on the dissimilarity index is considered very high, so all 10 of these cities demonstrate a worrying level of segregation in what most believe to be a mixed, multicultural, country. These are the ten most segregated cities in the US.

10. Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., 69.2%


These two long island counties remain highly segregated and the racial spread within the area has been likened to South Africa. In a study by ‘Erasure Racism’ it was found that 74% of Long Island’s black population would have to move in order for the population to be evenly dispersed. The lack of progress in racial integration has been ascribed to the ‘little-box councils’ which make up the community. Black citizens with good credit scores still find it hard to get mortgages to buy property in highly white areas, maintaining a status quo of racial separation.

9. St. Louis, Missouri, 70.6%


Back in 2012 it was suggested that St. Louis was the most racist city in America and the high levels of segregation sadly support this. Although the city has no strong racial majority (with 49% black, 44% white, 4% Hispanic and 2% Asian) tensions between racial groups remain high. Historically St. Louis has been the centre of a number of key moments in America’s history of race-relations, including the Dred Scott case (which resulted in a supreme court ruling that African-Americans could not claim citizenship in the US). However, some (including Joshua Seth) claim that racism in St Louis is highly exaggerated, by those who have not considered the recent achievements of charities and law-enforcement officials to make changes within the city.

8. Cleveland, Ohio, 72.6%


The ‘Ohio history central’ website claims that  ‘despite the various federal and state efforts to end racial discrimination and segregation, true equality, while closer, has not been completely achieved’. Many who live in this highly stratified community may view this as a huge understatement. Segregation in the city is strongly evident in crime rates and unemployment – 79% of Cleveland prisoners in Ohio state penitentiaries come from one of the five predominantly African-American neighbourhoods and around 20% of African-Americans in the city are unemployed. However, these days Cleveland has become more open to talking about and attempting to resolve its race-related problems.

7. Miami, Florida, 73%


Miami has been nicknamed the ‘Capital of Latin America’ and its population comprises a diverse range of ethnicities including:  Cuban (34%), Nicaraguan (5.6%) Haitian (5.5%) and Honduran (3.3%). The United Nations ranked Miami alongside Toronto as containing the highest percentage of residents born outside the country; however, unlike Toronto these races are far more divided within the city. The city contains stratified neighbourhoods, including Overtown (previously ‘coloured town’) which is celebrated for ‘reclaiming a sense of place’ for minorities within the city. Although Overtown is in many ways a success, representing culture within the city, it remains racially divided following a history of segregation laws.

6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 73.7%


Philadelphia is a classic example of racial inequality. Black citizens are exposed to poverty at a rate almost three times higher than their white counterparts and Hispanics are three times more likely to live in impoverished communities than whites. Educationally there is a massive performance gap between students of different ethnicities which encourages a cycle of wealth and racial segregation; non-whites are likely to go to less prestigious schools and typically score among the lower percentiles. As Philly’s racial inequalities can be traced back to differences in education and exposure to poverty at a young age, segregation (both geographically and ideologically) has been slow to change.

5. Chicago, Illinois, 75.9%


In 2012, the Huffington Post named Chicago the most segregated city in America, and although it no longer holds this title there is still a long way to go for this city to achieve true racial equality. There has been a move to increase African-American’s access to credit and the introduction of fairer housing laws in an effort to achieve desegregation. Racial integration has also been increased by the demolition of many city housing projects, leading to the relocation of minorities across the city. However, whether or not you are a victim of violence in Chicago remains largely an issue of race as shootings remain predominantly confined to minority neighbourhoods.

4. Newark, New Jersey, 78%


Newark is one of the most segregated on this list in terms of housing, and minorities can be seen to be spatially and socially isolated within the city. In spite of the fact that there has been a slow decline in the white population for a number of years, affluent neighbourhoods remain Caucasian-dominated. Housing advocates have claimed that Newark is as segregated as it was 40 years ago as the Newark metropolitan area has a worrying segregation index of 81.4% (a mere 0.7% decrease from 1970 when it was 82.1%). Ultimately Newark may be racially diverse, but its society remains hugely divided.

3. New York, New York, 79.1%


Although New York may be the most densely populated city in the United States (squeezing 8.4 million people into a little over 300 square miles) it remains largely segregated from one neighbourhood to the next. This might be surprising given its status as the port of entry for immigrants around the turn of the century (through Ellis Island), but sociological theory holds that historically, new immigrants tended towards the familiar and consciously grouped together in certain neighbourhoods. The city boasts citizens originating from every corner of the globe (approximately 37% of the population is foreign born), yet even now significant segregation remains between neighbourhoods.

2. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 79.6%


Recently Milwaukee was described as a ‘Third World City’, and Reverend Willie Brisco of the ‘Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope’ claimed “Modern-day Milwaukee is set up like a slave plantation.” These controversial statements sparked a dialogue amongst the city residents concerning what should, and what can, be done to tackle race-related issues (including a concern over ‘profiling’ within the city’s police force). Suburbia remains largely white, and 90% of the black population of the metropolis live within the city. There has been notable hostility concerning the development of public transportation connecting the suburbs to the city, arguably intensifying the separation and antagonism between racial groups.

1. Detroit, Michigan, 79.6%


Detroit’s segregation is so extreme that there was even a wall erected in 1940 as a barrier between whites and blacks. It has been likened to the Berlin wall by many, although unlike its German counterpart it still stands as an embodiment of racial attitudes. Although the wall no longer expressly separates races, segregation has remained the status-quo for the geography of the city. Some claim that the wall, and its inspirational murals, remains as a symbol of how far the city still has to go. Overall, Detroit stands as the embodiment of segregation within America and its residents remain, largely, explicitly separated into ethnic groupings across the city’s neighbourhoods.