Congratulations, Texas. We’ve received a dubious distinction: In this list published yesterday by Richard Florida of The Atlantic‘s Cities blog and his team at the Martin Prosperity Institute of the U.S. cities with the highest levels of income segregation, a staggering four of ours landed on the top-ten list, including claiming the top spot.
That top spot goes to San Antonio, while Houston clocks in at number four. Dallas lands in eighth place, while Austin rounds out the list at number ten.
These are fairly shocking numbers, especially when you consider that no other state has more than one city in the top ten. Even California, which certainly has its own struggle with income segregation in its metropolitan areas, only appears on the list at number six, with the San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont area.
So, what does all this actually mean? Essentially, it means that in major Texas cities, wealthy people live in enclaves surrounded by people with similar incomes and poor people live in neighborhoods surrounded largely by other poor people. The actual effects of that can be extrapolated by considering what it means if poor people don’t have the chance to see what it’s like to live with money, or if children of privilege grow up without much firsthand experience with people who aren’t as fortunate.
Major metro areas have been magnets for both the rich and the poor since ancient times; in fact they owe a great deal of their dynamism to their economic and social diversity. But growing economic segregation—the increasing tendency of affluent people to live in neighborhoods where almost everyone else is affluent, and poor people to live in neighborhoods where almost everyone else is poor—may be a more insidious problem. The emergence of a new urban geography of concentrated wealth and advantage juxtaposed to endemic poverty and concentrated disadvantage poses troubling implications for the economic mobility of people and the economic health of cities.
These aren’t things that no one has noticed before, of course. Demographer Steve H. Murdock—former head of the U.S. Census and current director of Rice’s Hobby Center for the Study of Texas—wrote about this in his most recent book, Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge. (Murdock further explained what he saw as the demographic challenges Texas faced in an interview with Texas Monthly‘s Jeff Salamon in February.)
Of course, studies like Florida’s can be misleading, as well. His list of the top-ten most segregated cities focuses only on “large metros,” or major cities. Texas is more than just its four largest cities. So how do our smaller and medium-sized cities fare? Let’s check back in with the Atlantic:
The most highly segregated metros are actually smaller and medium sized, many of them in Texas. El Paso tops this list, followed by second and third-ranked Laredo and McAllen. College Station comes in sixth place. San Antonio, which is first out of large metros, is eighth overall, and Brownsville is ninth. Outside of Texas, Bridgeport, Connecticut is fourth; Trenton, New Jersey fifth; Memphis eighth; and Jackson, Tennessee tenth.