Segregation and Its Impacts on Latino Education and Earnings

Latinos achieve lower earnings and education in the nation’s most segregated cities, says a new study.

Latinos are America’s largest, fastest growing – and perhaps most geographically concentrated – group.

According to the Census Bureau, more than half of the nation’s 54 million Latinos live in just three states – California, Texas, and Florida. The Pew Research Center reports that the nation’s 100 largest counties by Latino population also include 71 percent of all Latinos.

While some research argues for an “enclave effect” that benefits minorities who live together, a new study from researchers at New York University’s Furman Center finds worrisome impacts associated with increasing Latino segregation in major metropolitan areas. In particular, the researchers find a direct correlation between higher levels of segregation and lower rates of education and job market success.

“The most striking correlations are on earnings,” says the study’s lead author Justin Steil, a legal research fellow at the Furman Center. For example, Steil says, Latinos living in the nation’s most segregated city – Los Angeles – earn 17 percent less in comparison to whites than Latinos living in the somewhat less segregated Las Vegas.

Latinos living in Los Angeles are also 5.4 percent less likely to graduate from high school than Latinos living in Las Vegas and are 10.8 percent less likely to finish college in comparison to whites. And among younger Latinos ages 25 to 30, living in Los Angeles is associated with a 4.6 percentage increase in the likelihood of “disconnection” – neither working nor in school.

The study also finds that the negative effects associated with segregation among Latino communities is in some instances worse than the negative impacts associated with segregation in African-American communities.

For instance, while the difference in black-white segregation rates between less-segregated Phoenix and highly-segregated New Orleans is about the same as the difference in Latino-white segregation rates between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, there’s a smaller comparative drop in high school graduation rates – 2.4 percent versus 5.4 percent. Similarly, the likelihood of single motherhood is comparatively lower for African-American women living in New Orleans than for Latina women living in Los Angeles.

For both African-American and Latino communities, however, the same negative forces are in play when segregation is greater. “The quality of life in a neighborhood is profoundly shaped by the availability and the quality of public services that are delivered, from schooling to public safety to sanitation,” write Steil and his colleagues, Jorge De la Roca and Ingrid Gould Ellen.

Top 10 most segregated metro areas, by Latino-white segregation
1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA
2. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
3. Newark-Union, NJ-PA
4. Boston-Quincy, MA
5. Salinas, CA
6. Philadelphia, PA
7. Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL
8. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
9. Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA
10. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX

Top 10 most segregated metro areas, by Black-white segregation
1. Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, MIC
2. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
3. New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ
4. Newark-Union, NJ-PA
5. Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL
6. Philadelphia, PA
7. Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL
8. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH
9. St. Louis, MO-IL
10. Nassau-Suffolk, NY

Highly segregated communities, for example, may have higher rates of violence, unequal access to crucial governmental services, poorer-performing schools and lower rates of “institutional density” – meaning fewer banks and high-quality grocery stores, as well as fewer community organizations, childcare centers and other resources that can help connect people to jobs and other opportunities. Segregated communities may also suffer deficits in human capital – such as college-educated adults who can mentor children and serve as role models. Research finds that being around college-educated adults is directly linked to higher odds for a young person’s own academic success.

While there’s some evidence that the Latino population is dispersing across the country as it grows, other evidence indicates that Latino segregation is worsening. Steil and his colleagues find, for example, that average levels of Latino isolation – e.g., the likelihood that Latinos live in neighborhoods with other Latinos – now matches that of African-Americans.

Other research finds that Latino segregation is particularly acute in public schools. For example, a 2014 report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project found that “the typical Latino student is now in a school that is 57 [percent] Latino, more segregated than black students are with fellow blacks and second only to whites in the level of in-group isolation.” Moreover, the report finds, among schools where the super-majority of students are black and Latino, the super-majority are also likely to be living in poverty.

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration announced new fair housing rules, requiring cities and localities to detail how they would use federal funds to combat segregation. And in June, the Supreme Court held that the 1968 Fair Housing Act allows claims for “disparate impact.” This means that plaintiffs can sue for housing discrimination without having to prove that the discrimination was intentional, so long as the impacts are shown to be discriminatory.

“These are important tools for addressing continuing levels of housing segregation and trying to address the policies that contribute to that segregation,” says NYU researcher Steil.

These efforts, however, are just part of the solutions necessary to combat segregation and its damaging impacts. Steil’s research implies that better quality schools, improvements in college readiness and affordability, and better access to promising workforce development initiatives, such as apprenticeships, are equally important.

By 2060, the Census Bureau projects, fully 31 percent of America’s population will be Latino. With Latinos’ success so vital to the nation’s success as a whole, ensuring equal opportunity – including by reducing segregation – becomes an increasingly critical priority.

Anne Kim

Anne Kim, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, is senior fellow and director of domestic policy at the Progressive Policy Institute.