The economic and racial inequality problem in Baltimore exists in many US cities

BaltimoreREUTERS/Adrees LatifResidents march through the streets of west Baltimore, Maryland May 2, 2015.

Commenters have argued that Baltimore has long been plagued with serious socioeconomic problems, and that these fed into the rage that boiled over in recent days in the wake of the death of Freddie Grey after sustaining injuries while in police custody.

But Baltimore isn’t alone in having a pattern of racial and economic segregation. We examined the data and found that many big US cities, like Baltimore, are riddled with poor, mostly minority neighbourhoods.

We reviewed block group-level data on race and income from the US Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 American Community Survey estimates. We broke down neighbourhoods into three categories based on the racial makeup of those neighbourhoods: majority-minority block groups with fewer than one-third of residents self-identifying as non-Hispanic white, somewhat racially balanced block groups with non-Hispanic whites making up between one-third and two-thirds of the population, and majority-white block groups with over two-thirds of the population identifying as non-Hispanic white.

Similarly, we classified neighbourhoods as being low, medium, or high income, relative to the median income for the city or metro area as a whole. A block group where the median household income was less than 50% of the overall city’s median income was considered low income, a block group with a median income between 50% and 150% of the overall median was middle-income, and a block group with median income above 150% of the overall city’s median was high income.

Looking at these two characteristics, we then were able to classify a city’s neighbourhoods on both minority population and income level into one of nine overall categories. We then made maps of six big cities to see what patterns of racial and economic segregation or integration exist in each.


Baltimore city sits in the center of this map. The dark blue neighbourhoods are neighbourhoods that are both low-income and predominantly non-white. Western suburbs in Baltimore County have a large number of teal block groups, indicating middle-income minority neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, the eastern suburbs are dominated by middle-income mostly white neighbourhoods, indicated in pink. To the north are several light grey mostly white, high-income neighbourhoods.

New York

New York also has areas of serious economic and racial segregation. Several block groups in the Bronx, upper Manhattan, and East Brooklyn in particular fall into the low-income, high-minority proportion bracket. Eastern Queens is home to many middle- and upper-income minority block groups. Meanwhile, large swathes of Manhattan and Staten Island fall in the upper-income mostly white category.

San Francisco and the Bay Area

San Francisco itself has many relatively racially balanced and middle-income neighbourhoods. However, across the Bay in Oakland and Richmond, there are several low-income mostly minority block groups.

Los Angeles

Much of LA is majority minority, with more affluent majority white neighbourhoods along the Pacific Coast and to the south in Orange County.


Chicago and its surrounding suburbs in Cook County are among the most famously segregated areas in the United States. The South and West sides of the city are full of poor, minority-majority neighbourhoods, while the North side and surrounding suburbs are home to much more affluent white communities.

Washington, DC

Focusing just on the capital itself, there is a stark divide between the mostly minority eastern half of the district and the upper-income white western half.

These maps show that the kinds of socioeconomic and racial segregation that plague Baltimore are far from unique to that city.

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