U.S. Race Relations by Region: The East

by Josephine Mazzuca, PhD
Senior Staff Writer, Toronto Bureau

This is the first article in a four-part series on race relations in four regions of the United States.

Race relations in the United States have intrigued social scientists for decades. Surveys and demographic trends are constantly being used to track the degree to which social mores continue to shift with regard to race. This week, we will consider the results of a recent Gallup Poll* that gauges race relations in the eastern United States*. In subsequent weeks, we will examine three other regions of the country -- the South, Midwest and West.

To provide a perspective more focused on U.S. cities, we will also consider the degree of racial integration for several major urban areas in each of the regions using Census data analyzed by Social Science Data Analysis Network at the University of Michigan (see link under Related Sites). The SSDAN has used its CensusScope database tool to create a "dissimilarity index" for cities and metropolitan areas throughout the country based on one of the most basic aspects of everyday life: residential patterns. The idea is that the level of residential segregation in a city is one important indicator of how well integrated the inhabitants of that city truly are. For example, a white-black dissimilarity index of 65 indicates that 65% of white people would need to move to another neighborhood to make whites and blacks evenly distributed across all neighborhoods in a city or metropolitan area.

Gallup Data on Race Relations in the Eastern United States

What do the Gallup data tell us about race relations in the eastern United States? For the most part, poll results among Easterners are similar to those for Americans overall, although only 5% of those in the Eastern states rated relations between whites and blacks as "very good" -- slightly lower than the national average. The majority of Easterners (60%) rate race relations between whites and blacks as "somewhat good," 28% rate them as "somewhat bad" and 5% "very bad."

Similar figures emerge regarding relations between whites and Hispanics, despite the fact that white-Hispanic dissimilarity indexes are typically lower than the white-black indexes, indicating that Hispanics tend to be less residentially segregated from whites. A small percentage (7%) of Eastern residents consider relations between whites and Hispanics to be very good, while 56% consider them somewhat good. Twenty-eight percent rate white-Hispanic relations as somewhat bad and 4% rate them as very bad. Overall, these ratings are slightly less positive in the East than they are in other parts of the country.

Do Easterners feel that minorities are discriminated against in American society? Results show that Easterners are divided when asked if they feel that racial minorities in this country have equal job opportunities as whites. Forty-seven percent say yes, while 51% say no. These numbers are similar across the country.

Gallup also asked Eastern blacks and Hispanics specifically if they feel discriminated against in public life or employment because of their race. Again, the numbers are generally reflective of the national averages: A third report that they experience discrimination a few times a year, while about a quarter (26%) say they never feel discriminated against because of their race. One point of concern: 15% say they experience this discrimination every day -- slightly higher than the national figure of 12%.

Dissimilarity Indexes for Eastern Metropolitan Areas

Some of the most diverse cities in the United States are found on the East Coast. However, although the cities overall are racially diverse, their dissimilarity indexes tend to be quite high, indicating that residents are largely divided along racial lines residentially. Three of the top 10 metropolitan areas with the highest dissimilarity indexes are located in the eastern part of the country (New York City, Newark and Buffalo-Niagara Falls). Below, we will consider four eastern metropolitan areas: New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Hailed as possibly one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, New York City residents are quite segregated in their living arrangements. The white-black dissimilarity index for this metropolitan area is 84.3, indicating that 84.3% of whites would have to move to another neighborhood in order to have whites and blacks evenly distributed across all neighborhoods. This is the fourth-highest dissimilarity index out of the 318 metropolitan areas that CensusScope examined. Hispanics make up a quarter of New York City's population, and the white-Hispanic dissimilarity index is actually lower, 69.3.

Philadelphia has the next highest white-black dissimilarity index of 76.9 (the 18th highest in the country), and a white-Hispanic index of 63.3 (although Hispanics make up a small percentage of the population of this area).

Boston, which actually has a relatively smaller black population, has a white-black dissimilarity index of 68.8, 68th highest nationwide, and 64 for whites and Hispanics.

Finally, in the nation's capital, the white-black dissimilarity index is 66.2 (88th nationwide). Blacks make up a quarter of the population of this area -- the highest black population in the four cities considered. The white-Hispanic dissimilarity index is 52.5, the lowest figure in the four cities highlighted here.

Key Points

Eastern seaboard cities such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia are emblematic of the United States' "melting pot" status. However, although it includes several of the world's most multi-ethnic cities, the eastern United States does not score especially highly with regard to racial integration or sensitivity to minority rights relative to other parts of the country. Many of its metropolitan areas are racially dissimilar and in some cases feelings about minority rights and relations are slightly less positive in this part of the country. For decades, it has been argued that race relations are impacted negatively by racial segregation. If not exposed to each other on a daily basis, are the residents of diverse cities more likely to rate their relations in a positive light? In light of the dissimilarity indexes for this region and Gallup's findings, the answer to these questions seems to be "no."

Next week's article will examine race relations in the western United States.

*Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,360 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 3-9, 2002, including oversamples of blacks and Hispanics that are weighted to reflect their proportions in the general population. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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