clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The enormous racial opportunity gap in America's metro areas

Hell's Kitchen in New York City, during the 1980s.
Hell's Kitchen in New York City, during the 1980s.
Keystone via Getty Images

In the nation's 100 largest metro areas, about 40 percent of black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children live in the lowest-opportunity neighborhoods in their areas, compared to just 9 percent of white children.

Researchers at Brandeis University and Ohio State University analyzed nationwide data from, compiling their findings in the Child Opportunity Index. They looked at various neighborhoods to examine socioeconomic indicators, including housing foreclosure rates and access to basic educational and health-care facilities.

The findings show that minority children are much more likely to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods that lack access to early childhood education centers, parks, health-care facilities, and other vital resources.

White children don't experience this debilitating disadvantage even in the cities where they're worst off. According to the study, the problem is most pervasive for white kids in Honolulu, where 23 percent live in the lowest-opportunity neighborhoods. This is in huge contrast to New York state's Albany metro area, where 60.3 percent of the area's black children live in the worst neighborhoods, and Boston, where 57.6 percent of Hispanic children live in similar conditions.

These types of disparities can have life-long consequences for children. A 2008 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is the equivalent to missing a year or more of school — and the negative impact persists even after the child moves out of the area.

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates covered similar research in "The Case for Reparations," focusing on Chicago, one of the most economically and racially segregated major US cities:

Such is the magnitude of these ailments that it can be said that [Chicago] blacks and whites do not inhabit the same city. The average per capita income of Chicago's white neighborhoods is almost three times that of its black neighborhoods. When the Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson examined incarceration rates in Chicago in his 2012 book, Great American City, he found that a black neighborhood with one of the highest incarceration rates (West Garfield Park) had a rate more than 40 times as high as the white neighborhood with the highest rate (Clearing). "This is a staggering differential, even for community-level comparisons," Sampson writes. "A difference of kind, not degree."

Based on the Child Opportunity Index's data, the neighborhood disparities persist across the nation — placing America's minority children on a worse trajectory at the start of their lives.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.