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American segregation, mapped at day and night

The racial makeup of neighborhoods changes during the workday. See how yours changes.

Alvin Chang/Vox

Racial segregation is usually discussed in the context of where we live, and for good reason.

Government policies forced people of color into poor, racially segregated neighborhoods, which were incredibly harmful to residents. And these neighborhoods ended up being the basis for how we form our social networks.

But if our environments matter so much, what about the place we spend most of our lives: the workplace?

This was the conversation that researchers Matthew Hall, John Iceland, and Youngmin Yi wanted to kick-start.

By tracking the dramatic shift in segregation from day to night, the researchers hoped to get a fuller understanding of how and where we encounter people of other races. Because they tracked people by neighborhood, they could get a granular understanding of what kinds of places become more diverse during the day.

They found that when white people go to work, they are around only slightly more people of color than when they’re in their home neighborhoods. But for everyone else, going to work means being exposed to many more white people — and far fewer people of their own race.

Hall shared their data with us, which we made into the interactive map above. In nearly every community in the US, these patterns — of neighborhoods being relatively diverse during the day but becoming highly segregated at night — are visible to some extent.

One way to interpret this data would be to say that our workplaces and the neighborhoods they’re in help us overcome the stubborn residential segregation patterns that we find ourselves stuck in. In other words, our workplace neighborhoods offer something of an escape from our highly segregated residential lives.

Work segregation is getting worse, and racial hierarchy still reigns supreme

But the study also cautions against reading too optimistic of a take from the data.

For one thing, the researchers found that work neighborhood segregation is actually increasing. This falls in line with recent research from John-Paul Ferguson and Rembrand Koning showing that segregation within our workplaces is higher than it was a generation ago.

Moreover, when researchers looked at what kind of attributes correlate with more diverse work neighborhoods, they found that it was places with the highest amount of occupational inequality.

In other words, these workplaces are more diverse — but that’s because all the managers are white and all the janitors are black and brown. And Hall says this unequal power dynamic is more likely to cause potential conflict than environments where racial groups are on a more equal footing.

This research provides a fuller picture of the racialized environments we occupy, from day to night. But if there’s one thing that’s apparent from exploring these maps, it’s that the shadows of residential segregation follow us wherever we go during the day.

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