Friday, July 13, 2007

Lessons from the past on racial segregation

My Backstory colleague Jim Rowen (who also wasn't on Backstory yesterday) has written an interesting post on racial residential segregation in Milwaukee. He cites statistics that show our area has a large degree of racial concentration and wonders why SEWRPC hasn't "done something" about it.

I have an amateur's interest in the topic. In the mid to late 8os, as a young lawyer at Foley & Lardner, I was part of a team of ten lawyers from five firms who represented 24 suburban school districts in a metropolitan desegregation case brought by MPS which, even then, was rapidly running out of white students with which to integrate. The case settled after three months of trial on terms that represented pretty much of a rout for the suburbs. The suburbs essentially agreed to expand the number of seats allocated to the 220 program as long as they had them and the state would pay them to do it.

But revisiting the case is not the point here. The Eastern District of Wisconsin Bar Association did a retrospective on the case last year that made me feel ancient. (At least I was a child when I did this.) Our topic here is residential segregation.

I was assigned by my senior colleague Tom Shriner to work on that aspect of the case in which MPS alleged that residential racial segregation was caused by
government action. (Tom worked on big thoughts at which he was - and still is - incomparable.) My partner in that task was now- Magistrate Judge Bill Callahan who was then at Davis & Kuelthau. We worked with a team of experts at UCLA and the Rand Corporation. While I haven't kept up with all of the social science, some of what we learned then is pertinent to the issue that Jim raises.

Preference is a huge element in racial residential segregation. Two things are at work. First, people tend not to want to make dramatic moves away from their friends and families. Thus, when a group of people who have originally moved to the central city ( fairly typical for lots of ethnic groups) move out, they tend to fan out in the same direction. For the black population in Milwaukee, this has resulted in a movement to the north and west. If you look at census tract maps of racial concentration over time, this looks like an expanding slice of pie starting near the downtown and extending toward the northwest.

This would not, in and of itself, result in the racial concentration that we see today. It hasn't for other ethnic groups that have engaged in similar patterns of movement. But there are things about race that are different. Not only is their less intermarriage (which would expand a couple's web of connections), but there is what demographers called the 80:20/50:50 dilemma. Both whites and blacks report that they are willing to live in an integrated neighborhood, but blacks do not want to live in a white neighborhood and whites don't want to live in a black one.

The problem is that blacks and whites define these terms differently. For whites, a neighborhood that is more than 20% black is black. For blacks, a neighborhood that is less than 50% black is white. It's a tad more complicated than this (and perhaps now made more so by the multi-polar racial environment that we increasingly live in), but the point was that the preferences for integration are not compatible.

Milwaukee is not as unique as it is claimed to be. One of the things that you heard then and hear now is that the Milwaukee metropolitan area has fewer blacks living in the suburbs than other metro areas. That was largely true then and I suspect it still is.

But if you ignored municipal boundaries and just plotted racial concentration on metro area maps, Milwaukee looked a lot like other rust belt cities (Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit) with similar racial histories and economic profiles.

The reason that Milwaukee had fewer blacks in suburbs was the city's huge geographical size, largely a result of former Mayor Ziedler's annexation program in the late 50s bringing a lot of open space to the north and west of the city within its borders. (In fact, city officials marketed that part of town as "a suburb in the city.")

The most significant government contribution to segregation had nothing to do with race. One of the things that we did was a computer simulation that "reassigned" black households to the suburbs based on their ability to afford suburban housing. The simulation showed that economics was a huge factor in explaining the dearth of blacks in the suburbs but it could not explain all of it. Lots of black families could afford to move to the suburbs but did not.

Then we did the simulation again "holding back" municipal employees who were not free to move to the suburbs because of the residency rules of the city government and MPS. It turned out that an extremely large proportion of the black middle class in Milwaukee worked for these entities and that the residency rule was probably the most significant government policy contributing to residential segregation.

There was a lot more to the case than that. We talked about zoning, the placement of public housing, racially restrictive covenants, etc. (I remember conducting a particularly delicious cross examination of the plaintiff's expert on public housing.) The point was - and I think still is - that residential racial segregation is largely the result of factors that government did - and can do - little about.


Dad29 said...

Well--except that the Gummint CAN "let the people go" and strike the residency requirement.

Anonymous said...

"The point was - and I think still is - that residential racial segregation is largely the result of factors that government did - and can do - little about."

And, of course, this is the conclusion that you and most self-identified conservatives reach with respect to almost every policy issue.

Rick Esenberg said...

And, of course, this is the conclusion that you and most self-identified conservatives reach with respect to almost every policy issue

Isn't that sort of like saying that almost all priests believe in God? One of the things that distinguishes liberals from conservatives is the willingness to believe that government can shape society by fiat.

Anonymous said...

I am very pleased with myself, having predicted the usual straw man, i.e., that libs thing government should or can do everything.

And, of course, you folks are not the anarchists you suggest. You love your cops, prisons, armed forces, firefighters, etc., (and, no, I do not dislike these services either) ands most at the end of the day will even grudgingly acknowledge the need for the FDA, public education, public roads, (gasp) some public transit, maybe a touch of environmental reg., etc.

The notion that there exists a "small government" or passive government philosophy here, is nonsense. Hell, even fiscal restraint hasn't done real well under republicans. W. a huge spender. answer: we're at war dammit! Actually, two counting Afganistan. Do we paygo it? Nah, deficit/debt spend like a drunken sailor.

Any actual discussion of policy and philosophy would include a debate of what societal/community issues are of the type that can be productively dealt with, in whole or part by government, and how government can play that productive role where it makes sense.

No one disagrees with this. No one. The problem is that on the right, all we have is meaningless "government sucks its like nazisim" sloganeering. Don't get me wrong, there are libs who offer only empty sloganeering as well and its just as maddening. The "everything should be better" crowd is no better that the "everything's an outrage crowd." Its all gibberish.

So, residential integration. despite the rhetoric, we all know the concept arose from a history in which residential segregation (with the permission and/or active participation of governments) was a huge factor in creating and maintaining inequality, alienation, disenfranchisement, etc. All very concrete stuff.

So, it ain't about some lib pipe dream of la la land, its about undoing some of the causes of very serious problems. And to suggest that government can do nothing whatsoever to encourage and facilitate this to some degree is just not a serious remark.

Just another example of conservatives dressing up the notion that a problem should be ignored if it don't hit there usually better off selves (and I don't mean yuppies or the wealth, there just ain't a whole lot of struggling rightwingers).

Rick Esenberg said...

Any actual discussion of policy and philosophy would include a debate of what societal/community issues are of the type that can be productively dealt with, in whole or part by government, and how government can play that productive role where it makes sense.

Absolutely. Except that what you have posted does not do that and is not responsive to anything that I wrote.

I did not write that "government sucks" or that "it is like nazism." I did say that there seem to be underlying causes of residential segregation that suggest the government cannot readily change it. We also built a powerful case against the notion that government played a critical role in causing residential segregation, notwithstanding your proclamation about what we "we all know."

Maybe you think that this is wrong but I would have to guess at your reasons. All you did was tell me how awful you think conservatives are.

Anonymous said...

I certainly did respond to what you wrote. The fact that you cleave to an embarrassing, pedantic, cartoon-of-an intellectual verbosity does not mean that your prose can't be responded to in simpler english.

When all of your self-aggrandizement and shiny bug words are cleared away, this is yet another routine "conservative" post about how we shouldn't/couldn't address what some see as a societal problem. No big whoop.

Let me pay you a compliment. While most of your rightist brothers and sisters stop at declaring that we couldn't or shouldn't, because its some odd article of faith or, to them so obviously self-evident, you take the time to offer up some story about how some experience of yours a news article or, even better, a "Scholar" "proves" your point.

1st, a piece of false logic, you suggest that if government wasn't the direct cause it cannot be part of address the ensuing problem. Uh, wrong.

2d, can you really possibly be suggesting that a centuries of de jure governmental racism, specifically segregation, lasting in huge swaths of the nation until the 1970s - and centuries of de facto racism/segregation - plays no role in movement and settlement patterns?

examples about. but, since you insist on breaking my heart by using your legal creds to join help misrepresent the legal system and profession and system, let's take a fun one.

When the law permitted courts to enforce racial/ethnic deed restrictions on real estate and the market operated in this shadow of governmental authority, 1.5 generations or so ago - not a factor?

Regulatory acceptance of redlining? And, then there's the more subtle stuff, public transportation decisions, etc.

As a side note, you make use of a favorite rightwing trick, and you use it well. Just like the declaration of "culture" and "morals" is typically the entire "conservative" explanation for crime and social dysfunction, you talk about "preference" as ending the discussion.

As in, if everyone could just change their morals, culture, preferences, say, tomorrow @ noon, problem solved.

Preferences and the others develop in relationship to a larger set of present and past circumstances and need to be understood in the context of the other factors at work. This business about preference at any single moment is important only in the face of some suggestion that the government should load up neighborhood in buses as an act of integration.

But I know that any complexity, nuance, or subtlety in the analysis of policy issues only lets the terrorists win.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I'd like to point out that in "anonymous" very first post, he says..."you and most self-identified conservatives".
And in his second post he says....
"having predicted the usual straw man, i.e., that libs thing government should or can do everything." (thing=think?)
WOW. This issue is very simple.
The study of racial segregation in urban housing patterns, is a waste of time, money and effort. From Mr. Anons' and most liberals perspectives, black living where blacks do is somehow PROBLEMATIC.
They must be being OPPRESSED. We must find the cause of this OPPRESSION. (and have the government fix the non-problem)
The entire path has been built upon quicksand. The issue could be turned on it's head logically, BUT, liberals are seeking a self-fulfilled prophesy.
Why isn't it the WHITES who are oppressed into living in homogenous neighborhoods?? Why aren't whites the victims of this urban apartheid???
But that doesn't work, because the orthodoxy has been established.
Blacks need liberals help in choosing where to live.
Blacks are victims. Government needs to get involved somehow.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anonymous. I'm 'bout to shred your illogic like it was lettuce at Taco Bell.
1)Rick didn't say if government didn't cause it government couldn't be part of fixing the ensuing problem. THERE IS NO PROBLEM. You, me and Eugene Kane are FREE!!!! We're free libbie!!
2)Your second point is Al Gore-esque in it's non-sensibility.
Milwaukee did not have a sizable black population, nor ANY POPULATION for centuries. You're being silly. Milwaukee's black population grew as a direct result of industry, jobs and GASP!! welfare benefits. Now Mr. Anonymous, I realize fully that as I b!tch slap you intellectually, you'll continue to deny your own stench, but.......
You are free to move into any neighborhood you choose!! Where did you choose?
Class dismissed.

Anonymous said...

Lib, anon here. Thanks for the lesson. Believe me, if I could live in your world where everything can be explained and solved in a few child-like sound bites, I might join you.

Simple is good for some.