Contexts, Vol. 4, Issue 1, pp. 33-39, ISSN 1536-5042, electronic ISSN 1537-6052. © 2005 by the American Sociological Association. All rights reserved.
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fences and neighbors: segregation
in 21st-century america
john e. farley and gregory d. squires
After more than three decades of fair housing laws, residential segregation is declining, but it remains pervasive.
It undermines minority families’ search for good jobs, quality schools, health care, and financial success. However,
new organizing efforts, tools, and tactics offer hope for greater progress.
“Do the kids in the neighborhood play hockey or basketball?”
—anonymous home insurance agent, 2000
America became less racially segregated during the last
three decades of the 20th century, according to the 2000 cen-
sus. Yet, despite this progress, despite the Fair Housing Act,
signed 35 years ago, and despite popular impressions to the
contrary, racial minorities still routinely encounter discrimina-
tion in their efforts to rent, buy, finance, or insure a home. The
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
estimates that more than 2 million incidents of unlawful dis-
crimination occur each year. Research indicates that blacks and
Hispanics encounter discrimination in one out of every five
contacts with a real estate or rental agent. African Americans,
in particular, continue to live in segregated neighborhoods in
exceptionally high numbers.
What is new is that fair-housing and community-
development groups are successfully using antidiscrimination
laws to mount a movement for fair and equal access to hous-
ing. Discrimination is less common than just ten years ago;
minorities are moving into the suburbs, and overall levels of
segregation have gone down. Yet resistance to fair housing
and racial integration persists and occurs today in forms that
are more subtle and harder to detect. Still, emerging coalitions
using new tools are shattering many traditional barriers to
equal opportunity in urban housing markets.
Los Angeles, 1951
Photo courtesy of the L.A. Public Library