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Measuring Racial Segregation in Cuyahoga County

April 18, 2022
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Greater Cleveland is one of the most segregated large cities in the United States. A quick look at census data reveals distinct patterns of residency along racial lines. For example, Black people make up 48 percent of people in Cleveland, while white people comprise 71 percent of suburbanites, disproportionate to their shares in the county as a whole.

Defining the Dissimilarity Index

A more refined measure of segregation is the Dissimilarity Index, a mathematical formula which summarizes the distribution of two subpopulations in smaller geographic areas compared to their overall distribution in a larger area.[i] The Dissimilarity Index is a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 represents complete integration and 100 represents complete segregation. The value of the index can also be described as the percentage of either group that would have to move to achieve uniform integration.

 This means that more than two-thirds of Black residents (or white residents) in the county would have to move to a different census tract to achieve integration.

Considering Black and white residents in census tracts in Cuyahoga County, we computed a Dissimilarity Index of 69.8. This means that more than two-thirds of Black residents (or white residents) in the county would have to move to a different census tract to achieve integration. Comparing Latinos and non-Latinos yielded a Dissimilarity Index of 50.2, meaning that half of Latino residents (or non-Latino residents) would have to move to achieve integration.

Analysis of 29 metro areas offers another interpretation: and Cleveland is still the most segregated

An alternative analysis of segregation conducted by the think tank 24/7 Wall St. computed the percent of the population in each of 29 metropolitan areas (MSAs) across the country that lived in ZIP codes where 80 percent or more of residents belonged to a single racial or ethnic group.[ii] The study found that the Cleveland-Elyria MSA was the most segregated of the 29 MSAs, with 55.1 percent of the population residing in these homogeneous ZIP code areas.

Segregation’s roots in policy and culture

The historical roots of residential segregation lie in the 1930’s and the post-World War II period which featured discriminatory housing policies, restrictive real estate covenants, and mortgage redlining. Housing segregation also led to de facto school segregation, leading to poor school outcomes, and in turn, socio-economic disparities between races. All of these dynamics have contributed to what we currently see as vastly lower intergenerational wealth transfers for Blacks as compared to whites and enduring racial inequities.  

 

[i] Steven W. Peuquet, Ph.D. Center for Community Research & Service, University of Delaware. Using the “Index of Dissimilarity” to Measure Residential Racial Segregation.

[ii] Alexander Kent & Thomas C. Frohlich— 24/7 Wall St. The 9 Most Segregated Cities In America. The Huffington Post, August 27, 2015.

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