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Race and Income Segregation

Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Housing and Mortgage Lending Market

Lincoln Quillian
IPR sociologist Lincoln Quillian focuses on how social structure and group demography influence inequality, intergroup attitudes, discrimination, and neighborhood segregation.

Over 50 years ago, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law to address racial discrimination in the U.S. housing market. Evidence shows, however, that discrimination still persists in the housing sector. In a meta-analysis published in Race and Social Problems, IPR sociologist Lincoln Quillian and his colleagues review how racial discrimination has changed between 1976 and 2016. They analyzed data from 16 field experiments of housing discrimination and 19 observational studies of mortgage lending discrimination. In terms of housing discrimination, they discovered overt racial discrimination has sharply declined in responses to inquiries about housing and the availability of an advertised unit. When trained white auditors posed as prospective renters or homebuyers to test for discriminatory practices, they still were offered more units when compared with African American ones. These trends are consistent in both the large audits conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and smaller audits conducted by researchers. In examining the mortgage market, the researchers find that discrimination has not changed: Black and Hispanic borrowers are still more likely than white borrowers to be rejected when applying for a loan—and if approved for one, to receive a mortgage that costs more. The researchers argue that the subtle discrimination in housing serves to maintain residential segregation, and mortgage discrimination will continue to depress the home equity, and wealth accumulation, of black and Hispanic families. Thus, they argue that anti-discrimination enforcement is still necessary and should be increased “to ensure that all home seekers receive equal treatment regardless of their race or ethnic background.”

The Cost of Participating in Democracy While Poor and Black

How do poor Black populations participate in democracy? In Perspectives on Politics, IPR social policy expert Sally Nuamah investigates how Black populations respond to the threat of mass public school closure, and how they understand its political impacts. In 2013, Chicago and Philadelphia had the largest number of school closings in their history, and over 80% of the students attending the schools were Black and low-income. Between 2012–15, she conducted interviews in both cities with parents and community residents who attended community meetings about the school closings, analyzed transcripts from community meetings, and spoke to community and school district leaders. In 2016–17, she re-interviewed nearly one-third of the original participants. The interviews revealed some parents were able to develop their civic skills through organizing groups, planning meetings, and making presentations throughout the closure process. But several parents expressed disinterest in continuing to participate between 2016–17 when their efforts were unsuccessful or schools that stayed open lost resources, making them unable to benefit from their success. Nuamah calls this combination of deepened mistrust, fatigue, and disillusionment with the policy process “collective participatory debt.” She notes that despite the collective action of these groups, real policy change was not achieved, which leaves poor Black citizens less trusting of government and weary of participating in democracy. These findings demonstrate that  poor Black citizens  often participate at high levels with little return for their investment, and eventually they disinvest as “democracy’s good credit runs out.”

Shifts in Political Power Shape Perception of Government

After Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005, the state of Louisiana took over most traditional public schools and they became charters. Although test scores rose, surveys of Black citizens in the city show that the majority do not perceive that their schools have improved, although a majority of White residents perceive that the schools are better post-Katrina. To account for the disparity in perception, Nuamah and her co-author analyze data from two surveys in 2011 and 2013 that included questions about the public schools. They discover that racial differences in perception of schools’ quality were related to shifts in power from local to state control of schools, rather than to differing levels of satisfaction with schools, partisanship, or education. Blacks’ perception that schools had not improved post-Katrina were positively related to returning public schools to local—and thus majority Black—control, especially among middle-class respondents. In explaining the results, the authors argue that despite apparent Black control of New Orleans’ local government in the years following the hurricane, in reality, Blacks were politically marginalized in the control of the public schools, and that the charter takeover of traditional public schools came at the cost of political disruption for Black residents.