Population Segregation

A new report was recently published entitled “How the 1 Percent Is Pulling America’s Cities and Regions Apart.”[1]

Here is the core argument:

So, over a generation, concentrations of poor and wealthy have increased. A few observations from history:


1. Populations naturally segregate. They always have.

2. Non-agrarian populations tend to segregate more. As we’ve urbanized, segregation becomes more pronounced, not less.[2]

3. Segregation occurs for many reasons (some existential), but populations tend to segregate, in part, in order to create a critical mass of the products and services they want or need; this in turn develops the community they desire. (Some would argue that, since every vote counts equally, governments/ politicians create magnets for the least expensive votes — the poor.)

4. K12 education data shows that school segregation is the same or more pronounced today as it was in 1960. (Again, schools are more segregated today than they were when it was last legal in some areas. In fact, mid-western schools are more segregated today than they were in 1960.)

5. Market forces, often in concert with government forces, tend to encourage segregation in order to create and grow concentrated populations that require specific good and services. Nearly all organizations depend on population density minimums to survive.


1. Populations move. If you looked at average household income for NYC, you’d see a steady rise in the 18th century, then a decline in the 1820s, then a rise again in the 1860s. That period of decline is the result of a massive influx of poor, no/low skilled immigrants. (See also: The Bay Area was more racially segregated in 2010 than it was 40 years prior, a UC Berkeley paper published Tuesday found.)

2. While such phenomena do not explain everything, the fact that since 1960 the U.S. population has grown 82% and yet the population of Florida has grown 330% may alone explain why Florida appears to have grown poorer — an influx of the mobile poor.[3] For example, the collapse of Puerto Rico since 2006 has caused an influx of Puerto Ricans to move to Florida. Generational waves of people with below-average incomes obviously depresses average incomes in the near-term.

3. Similarly, California appears to have gotten poorer, and if you look at their education data over the same period, their academic performance has gotten much worse. Both are explained by the massive influx of Hispanic immigrants over that period of time (often non-English speaking and low/no skills). It’s possible that California’s economy and education system has gotten worse, but such data doesn’t tell us that. Rather, it just tells us that California’s population has changed over a 33 year period … which is what anyone would expect.


Given the above, I’m not sure what the maps tell us (if anything) because it doesn’t compare static data. Populations move and segregation occurs. So what?

For example, the waves of people with below-average incomes often flock to places with better opportunities. Thus, while Florida appears to get poorer and Connecticut appears to get wealthier, that may only demonstrate that Connecticut’s poor moved to Florida because Florida has increased opportunity (Connecticut’s population has actually recently declined.) So the fact that Florida appears to get poorer may actually mean that Florida is doing a great job by increasing opportunity to people with low skills. Like New York City in the 1820s, come back in a decade and things may have changed it (almost certain they will have).

And so: did the population of Florida become less wealthy? or did a less wealthy population move to Florida? If the latter, then this may not be economic segregation but rather opportunity segregation. And the observation may only stand if the observation is done at precise point in time due to the non-linearity of population economics.

By itself, economic segregation tells me almost nothing.

[1] https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/04/economic-inequality-geographic-divide-map-census-income-data/586222/

[2] See increasing segregation in NYC and Chicago. For example, before the 1960s, Harlem and the South Bronx had a substantial Jewish population. They were gone by the 1980s.

[3] As opposed to the immobile poor who are attached to cities via services.

About Nathan Allen

Formerly of Xio Research, an A.I. appliance company. Previously a strategy and development leader at IBM Watson Education. His views do not necessarily reflect anyone’s, including his own. (What.) Nathan’s academic training is in intellectual history; his next book, Weapon of Choice, examines the creation of American identity and modern Western power. Don’t get too excited, Weapon of Choice isn’t about wars but rather more about the seeming ex nihilo development of individual agency … which doesn’t really seem sexy until you consider that individual agency covers everything from voting rights to the cash in your wallet to the reason mass communication even makes sense….



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