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How segregated is Chicago, and does it matter?

In a provocative piece sweeping the Internet, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations. His central piece of evidence: Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, where nine out of ten residents are black, 43 percent of people live in poverty, and the homicide rate is three times the rate of the city as a whole.

Confronted by these facts, Coates claims, “Such is the magnitude of these ailments that it can be said that blacks and whites do not inhabit the same city.”

Is Coates right? Is Chicago so segregated that blacks and whites essentially live in different cities?

We constructed a segregation score for each Chicago community area by looking at the fraction of the population that blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians account for. A score of zero means a neighborhood’s residents are all of the same race. Neighborhoods with scores closer to 100 are more diverse. In Chicago, the highest possible score is 80. See each community’s score in the map below.

By this measure, Rogers Park is Chicago’s most diverse community area. Whites make up 39 percent of the population, blacks 26 percent, Latinos 24 percent, and Asians 6 percent. Other diverse neighborhoods include West Ridge, the Near West Side, Bridgeport, and Hyde Park.

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It doesn’t take a long time to see that Chicago’s most homogenous neighborhoods are predominantly black.

There are 20 neighborhoods in Chicago where African Americans make up more than 90 percent of the population. There are no neighborhoods where whites, Latinos, or Asians are that share of the population.

How do these 20 communities compare to the rest of Chicago on poverty, educational attainment, and crime?

The data do not tell us if segregation is the cause of these disparities, or a symptom of underlying social ills. What we do know is Chicago is still a segregated city, and its story is one of two cities. In Chicago’s most segregated communities, one third of people live in poverty, half as many people complete college, and the crime rate is twice that of the rest of the city.

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts,” Coates concludes in his piece in The Atlantic, “America will never be whole.”

The same could easily be said of Chicago.