* Governing Magazine conducted a six-month investigation into segregation in Downstate Illinois. From their findings…
What emerged was a picture of the way segregation continues to shape and reshape metropolitan areas in Illinois and, indeed, throughout many parts of the country. In these cities, segregation means not just a physical divide, but a huge disparity in resources. White areas of town benefit from more development, better infrastructure and more accommodating government policies.
What’s more, we found local governments bear much of the responsibility for creating and maintaining segregated communities. Mayors and other city officials are often focused on immediate concerns, such as balancing tight budgets or attracting economic development. While those are legitimate, pressing issues, the resulting policies can often reinforce segregation. Through unspoken traditions and ingrained attitudes, as well as explicit government actions, city officials are in many ways responsible for maintaining a system that still divides whites and blacks.
When it comes to land use — what gets built where — governments use zoning restrictions to keep out rental housing, which attracts blacks and other minorities, from predominantly white areas. They approve new residential subdivisions with strict deed restrictions that make large swaths of communities unaffordable to low-income residents and often explicitly bar any use other than single-family homes. As they restrict where apartments can be built, local governments also play a big role in deciding where public housing and other taxpayer-supported affordable housing projects are located. That often leads to concentrated areas of low-income housing in black neighborhoods. Those changes almost inevitably become permanent, because the income restrictions and other rules that come with public subsidies last for decades.
Public schools are a key factor as well. While segregation in schools is often viewed as a product of the neighborhoods the schools are located in, the truth is much more complicated because schools shape the neighborhoods they serve. In many cases, in fact, they exacerbate segregation by driving white flight to suburban areas. That is especially true in Illinois, because of its proliferation of small school districts. As cities such as Peoria and Springfield stretch beyond their original district borders, white residents flock to the suburban-style schools on their peripheries. Farther-out villages have transformed themselves from farm towns to bedroom communities by luring white families with new subdivisions and the promise of better schools in stand-alone school districts. The net result is that predominantly white suburban districts are flourishing, while urban districts have become increasingly black and suffer from declining tax bases.
Finally, residents in predominantly black neighborhoods routinely face more scrutiny from police and other government agencies, which reinforces the patterns of segregation that have already emerged. Government actions such as increased code enforcement, zero tolerance policies for drugs in public housing and disproportionately targeting black neighborhoods for traffic stops result in black residents facing more municipal fines or other minor punishments. Though seemingly small, those infractions, combined with the fact that blacks are far more likely to be arrested and imprisoned than whites, can make it harder for residents to clear their name and qualify for good-paying jobs that require criminal background checks. That barrier to jobs is significant for downstate communities: The Peoria, Decatur, Rockford and Carbondale metropolitan areas were all ranked among the top 10 for highest black unemployment rates in the country in 2017.
* From their findings…
High Residential Segregation: The Peoria area had the sixth-highest level of segregation measured between blacks and whites of any metro area in the country, while the Danville area ranked 12th nationally. Kankakee, Rockford and Springfield were similarly among the top third most segregated metro areas between black and whites.
Lack of Progress: Levels of segregation within the Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Peoria areas have remained essentially unchanged since 1980, counter to prevailing national downward trends.
White Flight: Many areas of Illinois have experienced significant white flight over the past several decades. This pattern has continued in recent years in some urban neighborhoods. (View map)
Extremely Segregated Schools: Our analysis of federal data found the Peoria metro area had the most segregated schools between black and white students of any area nationally, regardless of size. The problem is prevalent throughout the state, with black-white school segregation in eight of 10 Illinois metro areas in the top third in the U.S. Only Bloomington-Normal and Carbondale recorded lower levels of segregation.
School District Segregation: Segregation within individual school districts is much less severe than in entire metro areas, suggesting school district boundaries contribute to segregation.
Shifting School Demographics: Over the past 15 years, nearly all large urban downstate Illinois school districts lost at least a third of white student enrollment. Suburban school districts haven’t experienced nearly the same declines.
Black Incomes Lag Far Behind: Racial disparities in household incomes are severe throughout Illinois. In Springfield, differences between median black and white incomes were greater than any other metro area nationally. They were also among the top 10 percent in the Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Kankakee and Peoria metro areas.
Elevated Black Poverty Rates: The latest Census estimates suggest Peoria has the highest black poverty rate of any larger metro area. Several other Illinois metro areas similarly recorded among the steepest black poverty rates nationally.
* Their stories…
* Houses Divided: How States and Cities Reinforce Segregation in America: It didn’t take Silas Johnson long after he moved to Springfield, Ill., to identify the border that separates the black section of the city from the white one. Growing up in Mississippi as the civil rights movement swept through the South, Johnson knew about dividing lines. In the town of Macon, blacks knew to stay on their side of the railroad tracks. “It wasn’t something that was taught,” he says. “It was just something that was known.”
* Still Separate After All These Years: How Schools Fuel White Flight: The city of Peoria has its own school district, a chronically troubled system with a declining enrollment that serves mostly black students. About 70 percent are low-income. White families have been avoiding the troubles of the inner-city school district by moving to the northern part of town, where they can send their kids to Dunlap instead. As a result, Dunlap’s school system is booming.
* Broken Homes: How Housing Policies Keep White Neighborhoods So White (and Black Neighborhoods So Black): The fact that Hightower finds herself renting an apartment on the East Side of Springfield is no accident. A whole web of federal, state, local and even private regulations over housing and land use ensure that low-income residents live far away from wealthier ones; that apartment buildings are rarely situated next to single family housing; and, as a result, that black residents and white residents largely live in different neighborhoods.
* Black, White and Blue: How Police and Anti-Crime Measures Reinforce Segregation: Our review found many practices that placed greater burdens on black residents than white residents because of where they lived. These practices were used not just by police, but by non- law enforcement agencies like the Rockford Housing Authority. They included increased surveillance, frequent ID checks and rigorously enforced nuisance ordinances.