housing/residential segregation

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Politicians always seem to be talking about the middle class.  They need some new focus groups.  According to the Pew Research Center, over the past four years the percentage of adult Americans that say they are in the lower class has risen significantly, from a quarter to almost one-third (see chart below).

Pew also found that the demographic profile of the self-defined lower class has also changed.  Young people, according to Pew, “are disproportionately swelling the ranks of the self-defined lower classes.”   More specifically some 40% of those between 18 to 29 years of age now identify as being in the lower classs compared to only 25% in 2008.

Strikingly, the percentage of whites and blacks that see themselves in the lower class is now basically equal.  The percentage of whites who consider themselves in the lower class rose from less than a quarter in 2008 to 31% in 2012.  This brought them in line with blacks, whose percentage remained at a third.  The percentage of Latinos describing themselves as lower class rose to 40%, a ten percentage point increase from 2008.

And not surprisingly, as the chart below shows, many who self-identify as being in the lower class are experiencing great hardships.   In fact, 1 in 3 faced four or all five of the problems addressed in the survey.

In short, there is a lot of hurting in our economy.

Yesterday NPR discussed the results of a new study on charitable giving by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  The study affirmed that lower income people give a larger percentage of their income to charity, but also discovered that how much wealthy people give is strongly correlated with the type of neighborhood they live in.

It turns out that wealthy people who live mostly with other wealthy people give the least amount of money to charity, on average.  Here are five zip codes with high-densities of rich people according to the IRS (= % of “wealthy filers”) and the percent of their incomes that they donated to charity (= “percent given”):

In contrast, here are five zip codes with a great deal of economic diversity.  In this case, the far right column shows a dramatic increase in the percent of their incomes that they donate to charity:

Wow, so rich people in Manhattan donate less than 1% of their income to charity, whereas the rich in Brooklyn give 35%.  That’s a pretty amazing divergence!


There are (at least) three explanations for this finding.   One is that living in a diverse neighborhood makes you more inclined to give, whatever your inclination before moving there.  Another is it that generous rich people move to diverse neighborhoods and stingy rich people isolate themselves.   A third is that some other variable (e.g., political affiliation, religiosity) is correlated with both neighborhood preference and generosity.

A social psychologist interviewed by, Paul Piff, suggests that it’s the first explanation.  Rich people tend to be isolated, he says, so they just don’t notice that other people need help. But, if they see need, they do show compassion.

I’m sure Piff knows his stuff, but if I had the opportunity to follow up with him on this argument, I’d ask him more about what he means by “see.”  It seems to me that anyone that reads the news these days will be exposed to plenty of evidence of economic need and, if you care enough to dig for it a little bit, you’ll find stunning data documenting income inequality and heart-rending stories of widespread suffering.  It may be easy to be isolated, but I imagine one would have to at least occasionally turn a blind eye to these things.

But perhaps knowledge about need isn’t sufficient; perhaps we only “see” need when we come into direct contact with human beings, the ones with who become familiar to us. There is evidence that we find it easy to blame strangers for their misfortune, but chock it up to bad luck when it’s us, our friends, or our families.  So perhaps raising consciousness about poverty isn’t enough, perhaps we really do need to get the rich to rub elbows with the disadvantaged.

In any case, the results are pretty impressive and no doubt have some wide-ranging implications for how to make us a more compassionate and generous society.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In subarctic climates — ones in which the mean annual temperature is below 32° — the soil is frozen all year round.  It’s damn cold, but a nice base on which to build.  Until climate change starts melting the permafrost, of course.

These two now crooked buildings can be found in Dawson City, Canada.  Carleton University geographers have shown that the average temperatures have been increasing, melting the permafrost, and destabilizing the town.

This image reminds me that I am only barely beginning to understand climate change and its consequences.  How we will pay for climate change, and who will do so, is something I suspect I’ll learn much more about in the coming years.

Via Boing Boing.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

When we talk about residential segregation, we’re generally focusing on race, and for good reason — many cities in the U.S. still have incredibly high rates of racial segregation. However, a recent Pew Research Center report looks at economic segregation, which is increasing in U.S. neighborhoods.

Economic segregation refers to the degree to which people in different social classes live mostly among other people of their class. In 2010, the majority (76%) of people in the U.S. lived in middle-class or mixed-income neighborhoods. But economic segregation has increased in the last few decades. More of both lower-income and upper-income households live in Census tracts made up of households primarily like themselves:

The RISI index for a city just combines the % of both groups that live in tracts dominated by their own income group (so the maximum score is 200). Looking at RISI scores by region, we see that the Southwest has the most economic segregation, and has increased more than any other region in the past 30 years:

The Pew report argues that this is related to the general increase in income inequality, with less than half of the U.S. population falling into the middle class by 2010, and the upper class (here defined as those making more than $104,000) increasing:

Economic segregation is still a less prominent feature of cities than racial segregation is. But given its steady increase, it’s worth thinking about the consequences of the relative isolation of different social classes from one another. When the rich, poor, and middle-income groups live in different parts of town, who will have the political influence to draw municipal spending to their neighborhoods? How will this growing residential pattern affect who has access to nice parks, public facilities such as libraries and recreation centers, and maintenance for schools and roads — or, alternatively, whose neighborhoods become the location for generally undesirable or unpleasant industries or land uses?

Many people around the world are eagerly awaiting the start of the Olympics next week.  A lucky few will compete and a small group of others will be there, in person, to watch.  Athletes and spectators, however, are just two of the groups that the games mobilize.  The Daily Mail reports on the large numbers of people hired to be temporary janitors, groundskeepers, maids, and other types of cleaners.  Many of these workers are migrants who have come to London hoping to work for a few weeks and return to their families having earned a little more than they otherwise could.

The story, sent in by Dolores R., focuses on the living conditions of these workers.  Most are paying rent to live in temporary trailers.  Packed together like sardines, the compound has been described as a “slum.” Pictures are available at the site.

Complaints include:

  • Crowded living spaces.  “Any accommodation where more than two adults have to share a room is considered ‘overcrowded’ under housing laws.”
  • Insufficient toilet and shower facilities that were “filthy” from overuse.
  • Leaking trailers that the workers are told to live with or fix themselves; stagnant ground water around some of the trailers has forced them to put together make-shift stepping stones.
  • Women are being placed in trailers with men they don’t know; at least two women have quit when they were told they had to stay with male strangers.

The Daily Mail says that the employees have signed gag orders that prevent them from talking to the press and that family and friends are barred from the camp for “security reasons.”

Via The Sociologist.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Each year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates the fair market rents for apartments throughout the U.S. in order to set standards for housing assistance payments and vouchers for Section 8. Using data from the Census and the American Community Surveys, HUD figures out the average cost for various sizes of apartments. You can easily look up data for fiscal year 2012 here.

The generally-accepted standard for affordable, sustainable housing costs is that they should be about a third of a household’s income. The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently released a report on the mismatch between minimum wage — currently set at $7.25 nationally, with some states and municipalities having higher minimum wages within their boundaries — and the standard of living. The NLIHC report included this map showing the hourly wage that would be required for the HUD-calculated fair market rent to be about 30% of a full-time worker’s income:

In no state does the minimum wage pay enough to hit the 30%-of-income standard of affordable housing costs. How many hours would a minimum-wage worker need to work per week to make enough that the fair market rent would be about a third of their income? A lot, from a low of 63 hours a week in West Virginia to a high of 175 in Hawaii:

Thanks to Dmitriy T.M. for the tip!

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Economic recoveries often depend on the state of the housing market.  While an April increase in housing prices has led many analysts to talk of a housing recovery, U.S. home values still remain depressed.  According to a Zillow real estate research report, they are still some 25% below their 2007 peak.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of the state of the housing market is that, as of the first quarter 2012, 31% of all owner-occupied homeowners with a mortgage were “underwater,” which means they had a mortgage greater than the market value of their home. As the table below shows, these homeowners owed, on average, $75,644 more than what their home was worth.

To this point, the high percentage of underwater homeowners represents, in the words of Zillow, only “a potential danger.”  That is because “the majority of underwater homeowners continue to make regular payments on their mortgage, with only 10% percent of the 31% nationwide being delinquent.”  The following figure highlights the percent of delinquent/underwater homeowners in the largest metropolitan areas.

At the same time, as Zillow notes:

With nearly a third of the nation’s mortgaged homeowners in negative equity and the average underwater homeowner having a home value that is 31 percent lower than their mortgage balance, negative equity will prove both to be difficult to fully eradicate near-term and to have pernicious effects longer term as some households continue to encounter short-term financial trouble even with a slowly improving broader economy. Should economic growth slow, more homeowners will not be able to make timely mortgage payments, thereby increasing delinquency rates and eventually foreclosures.

In other words, if the economy slows, or interest rates rise, two very likely possibilities, the housing market could deteriorate quickly, intensifying economic problems.  In short, we are a long way from recovery.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a really great interactive graphic posted by the Guardian that summarizes the degree to which a number of rights and benefits are available to gays and lesbians in the U.S., by state. Each state is represented as a segment radiating out from the center of the circle; each colored ring represents a particular right, benefit, or protection:


  • Light blue = whether state has a law addressing discrimination or bullying in the school system
  • Purple = state-level hate-crime laws
  • Pink = protection against housing discrimination
  • Green = protection against employment discrimination
  • Blue = right to adopt (lighter shade indicates individuals are allowed; darker shade means gay and lesbian couples are allowed to jointly adopt)
  • Yellow = right to visit partner in the hospital
  • Red = marriage

The different shades indicate differences in the scope of coverage (say, full marriage rights vs. domestic partnership — and it has been updated to reflect yesterday’s passage of the bill outlawing same-sex marriage in North Carolina — or whether a law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity); the Guardian website explains each issue. Their post also allows you to hover over a state and get a more detailed summary. Here’s the info for Nevada, for instance:

The graphic also lets you scale states by population if you want to get a better sense of the proportion of the U.S. population living in areas that do or do not provide these protections.