PolitiFact: Austin among most economically segregated cities


A city official concerned about government not enforcing fair housing regulations says Austin has long been known to be a city divided.

Greg Casar, who represents District 4 on the Austin City Council, told the American-Statesman recently: “We do have a really serious problem in Austin. We’ve been ranked repeatedly as one of the most, if not the most, economically segregated cities in the country.”

Economic segregation can briefly be defined as residential division by income.

And has Austin repeatedly been ranked high by that metric?

To our request for elaboration, Shelby Alexander in Casar’s council office said that three recent studies classified Austin as economically segregated to a great degree.

A February 2015 study ranked the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area the country’s most economically segregated metro area with a population of 1 million or more. The San Antonio area ranked third, the Houston area was fourth, and the Dallas area was seventh.

That study, overseen by Richard Florida for the University of Toronto-based Martin Prosperity Institute, evaluated the nation’s 350-plus metro areas based on individual and combined measures of income, educational and occupational segregation plus an overall economic segregation index.

Among all U.S. metro areas, regardless of size, the study found the Tallahassee, Fla., and Trenton, N.J., areas to have the greatest economic segregation, followed by the metro areas of Austin, Tucson, Ariz., San Antonio, Houston, Ann Arbor, Mich., Bridgeport, Conn., and Los Angeles.

We followed up with Florida, who pointed us to his 2017 book, “The New Urban Crisis,” in which Florida says that since 2003, he’s explored his finding that the country’s “creative cities” including Austin double as “epicenters of economic inequality.”

“Austin,” the book says, “is divided east to west. … Its creative class is concentrated in a huge wedge to the west that runs from downtown through its high-end suburbs out to Round Rock and in another separate bloc in the far southeastern portion of the metro. Austin’s downtown has seen substantial revitalization, including the development of large amounts of new housing. The service-class and smaller working-class areas are massed entirely in the more disadvantaged areas of the east.”

Also pointed out by Casar’s aide: A 2017 study funded by the Urban Institute presenting economic segregation indexes for the 100 most populous U.S. “commuting zones” (similar to metro areas) as of the 1990 Census. The researchers analyzed economic segregation by using the Generalized Neighborhood Sorting Index, described as measuring how many people of similar incomes “clump” together within a metro region.

From 1990 through 2010, that study says, Austin ranked among a dozen communities consistently placing in the top quarter of the nation’s economically segregated areas. Among all 100 zones, Austin in 2010 ranked 18th in economic segregation — up from 25th in 2000 but down from 13th in 1990.

Alexander also noted an April institute report ranking cities — not metro areas — by income and racial inclusion. Austin was outpaced for “income segregation” by only nine of 274 cities.

“Although Austin ranks as highly segregated,” the Urban Institute’s Christina Stacy told us, “it did improve on segregation between 2000 and 2013 while most other cities worsened. So, it has shown some improvement, but is still toward the bottom of the pack.”

Another expert, Brown University sociologist John Logan, pointed us to research placing the Austin area in 2010-14 at 16th among the nation’s most populous cities and 17th among all evaluated metro areas for economic segregation.

Logan, presented with Casar’s claim, commented that the “Austin metro is on the high end, but not so high as to merit the characterization as ‘one of the most, if not the most, economically segregated cities in the country.’”

“The general point is that all U.S. metro areas are highly segregated by income,” Logan told us, “and that has consequences for the lives of residents.”

Our ruling:

Casar said Austin has “been ranked repeatedly as one of the most, if not the most, economically segregated cities in the country.”

Austin and the Austin region have repeatedly been ranked among the nation’s most economically segregated areas.

We didn’t find a ranking that placed the city or area No. 1 by this indicator though the University of Toronto study ranked the Austin area first among areas of 1 million residents or more. In that analysis, the Austin area landed third overall.

We rate Casar’s claim Mostly True.



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