L.A. is resegregating — and whites are a major reason whyOne seldom mentioned reason that white flight is a slow process in California is because the 1978 initiative Proposition 13 gives a major property tax break to homeowners who stay in their homes. So Los Angeles neighborhoods tend to be pretty stable compared to, say, Chicago neighborhoods. They don’t rapidly flip due to white flight, nor do they rapidly gentrify.
Some of America’s most racially integrated neighborhoods and cities are on a path to becoming segregated all over again. In Los Angeles this means neighborhoods where Latinos and Asians now live alongside black or white neighbors may have few to no whites or blacks in 10 to 20 years.
In research I conducted with Siri Warkentien, another sociologist, we used a statistical model and census data to identify the most common changes in racial composition in 10,681 neighborhoods in metropolitan L.A., Houston, Chicago and New York, beginning as far back as 1970 in some areas. That starting point corresponds with the implementation of the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act, which protects buyers and renters from discrimination in choosing where to live.
Covina, 22 miles east of downtown L.A., provides an example of one city at risk of resegregating. Whites make up about 26% of Covina as of 2014 and Latinos about 57%. Typically we consider neighborhoods with at least 10% of each group to be racially integrated. But the mix is crumbling. Latinos made up 13% of Covina’s residents in 1980, 26% in 1990, 40% in 2000, and 52% in 2010. Four years later, according to the most recent census estimate, the Latino population had grown by five more percentage points. By 2025, Covina is likely to be overwhelmingly Latino.
Liberals always want to get rid of Proposition 13 because it’s such an imposition on raising taxes to spend more on social programs. But nobody mentions that Prop 13 did more for neighborhood integration than just about any policy of the last 40 years.
Something similar happened already in nearby Norwalk. In 1990, just under half its residents were Latino and about a third were white (not unlike Covina now). By 2014, Latinos made up 70% of residents and whites 11%.
The data show that vast portions of south and east Los Angeles are slipping from mixed populations toward single race populations. And the change has not just occurred in formerly white areas. One of the trajectories that we identified followed a similar pattern in neighborhoods that were once black. Compton residents were nearly three-quarters black in 1980; by 1990, the mix was about 52% black and 43% Latino; in 2014, two-thirds Latino. Such slow but steadily increasing Latino growth can be found in 46% of the neighborhoods we studied in the Los Angeles metropolitan region.A triumph for CTRL-F!
What’s causing a shift from mixed to single-race populations?
Immigration is one obvious factor.
The Latino population increased in Los Angeles after immigration laws were changed in 1965 to encourage family reunification. That population was bolstered by a steady increase in Mexican immigrants from the mid-1990s until the recession. Newly arrived Latinos, like all immigrant groups, tend to find housing in neighborhoods already pioneered by their countryman who are already here.Asians in Los Angeles used to be very integrated all over the place. But then forced racial busing came to LAUSD in the late 1970s, so the Jews bailed out to private schools and the Asians bailed out to small school districts in the San Gabriel Valley that they could take over and control, like Arcadia. This also proved a way for Asian parents to keep their daughters away from chasing white boys by moving them to Asian dominant public schools.
Our research found that this process is occurring again in Southern California, but this time among immigrants from Asia, the source of the largest number of U.S. newcomers now. For example, the Asian proportion of the population in Cerritos increased from 44% in 1990 to 58% in 2000 to 62% in 2014. It appears to be following a path toward Asian segregation much like Covina is on the path to Latino segregation.
White preferences are another major factor that helps explain resegregation.It’s a school thing. Empty nesters will stick around due to their Prop 13 tax break, but if you have kids and you have to move and pay high property taxes, you’ll want to move to a neighborhood with better schools (i.e., better students).
Our model showed that, broadly speaking, during the 1980s, whites stopped fleeing from neighborhoods that were becoming integrated. But then — more than any other racial group — when whites did move they chose new neighborhoods with same-race neighbors.
In other words, Latinos moving to an area would not cause most whites to move out. But the prospect of having Latino neighbors might be enough to prevent whites from moving into a neighborhood. (Whites are moving to one kind of integrated neighborhoods: those that are gentrifying like downtown Los Angeles. But many fewer neighborhoods are gentrifying than segregating.)Because only whites have agency.
For a time, places like Covina and Norwalk will remain integrated. But as whites in these areas get older and die, the outcome is clear. Consider the age patterns: In Covina, 22% of whites are 65 or older; only 14% are under the age of 18. Among Latinos in Covina, 6% are 65 or older; 32% are younger than 18.
… Because so much of the shift in integration is based on whites’ decisions about where they will move next, Los Angeles’ future demographic patterns are in their hands.
One question that never seems to get asked, however, is: Who exactly are these hookah-smoking whites who keep moving into Los Angeles?
If the government creates a new Census category in 2020 breaking out “Middle Eastern – North African” from poor dumb old whites, is the white population of Los Angeles suddenly going to drop? How about then if in 2030 ex-Soviets get their own category?