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Residential Segregation in Omaha

Written by Qais Alghafri, Barrett Bryant,  Andrew Jeppesen, and Jonathan Parker

Introduction

Residential segregation within communities is an international issue. Residential segregation is a form of segregation that sorts population groups into various neighborhood contexts and shapes the living environments of the people who live in them. This issue leads to racial tension between sections of a city, sometimes leading to a disjointed community. Omaha is one such community where residential segregation is prominent. This study observes residential segregation in Omaha by analyzing sixteen news articles from local news sources: Omaha World Herald, Omaha Star, and Omaha Magazine. The study collected this data in order to investigate the causes, effects, and possible solutions of residential segregation in Omaha. The study finds that the effects of residential segregation are influenced by three integral factors, namely, income, education, and housing. This study attempts to illustrate and prove the importance of the lasting interconnectivity of these three elements and their effect on minorities in Omaha as well as solutions to this problem.

Racism

The study identifies racism as a possible primary cause of residential segregation today. Black people were forced into areas that white people didn’t want to live in. This is supported by the article “Institutionalized Segregation and Relocation”, written by M. Stelly who writes “black people arrived here and were relocated into the eastern sector of the city.” This residential segregation, which began just shortly after the end of slavery, still has effects on the segregation that exists in Omaha today. According to F. Allan in his article, “Schools ‘Separate And Unequal’ 60 Years After Brown” “Black students were not only segregated but wholly denied meaningful educational opportunity,” In addition, many other areas of Omaha were segregated, such as theatres. According R. Murry in his article “Hidden History” The Rose Theatre was highly segregated. Murry writes about one woman who came back years later just to be able to sit in the front seats. “The woman’s father was light-skinned enough to pass as white. She and her mother were not, and the downstairs auditorium was off-limits to blacks.” These examples of racism clearly show that Omaha’s history has impacted the city today. The study finds that the overlap of blatant racism and the relegation of blacks to poor areas of the city demonstrates a strong association and makes it highly likely that racism was a leading primary cause of residential segregation in Omaha. The attitudes of racism that affected black people in the past continue to have an impact today. For example, according to C. Burbach, in his article “County assessor valued properties west of 72nd too low, northeast Omaha too high, state finds” the property values of northern Omaha, where a majority of black people live, are overvalued, meaning back homeowners are paying more in taxes than white homeowners. This demonstrates the continued existence of racism in Omaha and its effect on residential segregation today. The scholarly literature regarding racism and segregation also supports the study’s findings. According to A. Grigoryeva and M. Ruef, in their journal article, “The Historical Demography of Racial Segregation,” patterns of racial segregation in cities are caused by racist attitudes of the majority group. However, racism is not the only reason residential segregation is present in Omaha today. Extensive research has shown the core issue that needs to be addressed in fixing this problem is actually education.

Education

The study finds that one of the leading causes of continued segregation in Omaha is the education system. There is a wide achievement gap between white and black students. According to the article “Achievement Gap Still Tests OPS” written by P. Goodsell, in 2012, only twelve percent of black high school graduates in OPS met ACT standards for reading, whereas fifty-five percent of whites met ACT standards. Reading is not the only area in which black students perform more poorly than white students. According to the same article, 74.9% of white students were proficient in math, but only 29.8% of black students achieved proficiency (Goodsell). In addition, according to the article “Poverty Amid Prosperity” by H. J. Cordes, C. Gonzalez, and Erinn Grace, the rates of graduation for black students in Nebraska was “below 50 percent” in 2007. The study found the main reason for this inequality was the segregation initially caused by racism. Because blacks were originally segregated to the poorest sections of town, they had access to the poorest schools. On top of this, many blacks in Omaha are poor. The median income of a white household in 2005 was $59,343, whereas for black households, it was only $30,939 (Cordes et. al.). This means the schools are poorly funded in predominantly black districts. All these factors led to substandard schools that provide an inferior education to blacks as opposed to whites. This inequality in education has a large impact on the black community. The scholarly literature on this subject shows similar findings. “The Role of Residential Segregation in Contemporary School Segregation” by E. Frankenberg states that residential segregation causes unequal access to good schools which in turn leads to poverty, continued unequal access to schools, and continued residential segregation. Without a good education, many blacks are stuck working minimum wage, menial labor jobs. With these jobs, they are only able to afford cheap houses or apartments in the poor, segregated slums in which they grew up, creating a cycle of poor education and poverty that continues for generations.

Income

The study brings to light the role of poverty among blacks in physical segregation as well as unequal access to education. There is a direct proportionality between income and quality of education, and many blacks in Omaha have a low income. “Most OPS blacks are from lower-income homes, while most Nebraska whites are not” (Goodsell). In addition, “Among America’s 100 largest metro areas, Omaha has the third-highest black poverty rate. Worse yet, its percentage of black children in poverty ranks No. 1 in the nation, with nearly six of [ten] black kids living below the poverty line” (Coredes et. al.) This poverty is the variable that is directly influenced by educational situation. As described previously, educational achievement among black students is lower than that of white students in Omaha. This educational inequality has created a downward spiral of effects among the black population living in North Omaha. Cordes et. al. also state that the issue of poverty is caused by “school failure, poor choices, kids having kids, violence, unemployment and hopelessness.” The low income that this situation creates leads to little to no opportunity for economic growth among the black community. The scholarly literature supports the findings that residential segregation is closely linked to poverty. C. J. Dawkins writes, in the article, “Recent Evidence on the Continuing Causes of Black-White Residential Segregation,” that “residential segregation is primarily a byproduct of segregation by income.” Because black people in Omaha generally suffer an inability to attain well-paying jobs, they can only afford minimum and low budget housing.

Housing

The study found that racism then led to poorer education, and because of poorer education, blacks were forced to have low paying jobs. The third and final element of residential segregation is the effect on the housing market in northern Omaha. The housing issue dates back to just after the civil rights movement, where whites began migrating out of inner city urban areas to the western Omaha suburbs, in hopes for an escape from the city. “But in doing so, this left some of the best housing stock in the city to black people. Whites headed out for newer areas of the city and left behind the wide porches, large basements and huge attics… But even though whites left, they were willing to rent out their homes, or cut them up into apartments, and make money from the area. But no matter what they did, they would profit from the venture because they would make money even if they allowed properties to decline” (Stelly). This decline was consistent throughout almost all of northern Omaha because landowners knew that even if they didn’t care for the land, poor blacks would live there. This mindset completely destroyed the community. With homes and places falling into disrepair, the value of the entire community was diminished. An article published by the Omaha Star in 2013 stated that the median net worth of a white householder was $87,056, more than 15 times the median net worth of a black householder ($5,446). Stelly’s article continues, “When a second party owns a home and rents it out, there is little to influence that person to spend money fixing up the house beyond the most basic of needs. Renters, in turn, do not want to expend their energy and money making a home that they do not own, a better place” (Stelly). Because of the income inequality already discussed in the study, blacks have to rent these places, in turn having to raise families in these terrible living environments. The scholarly literature supports the study’s findings about the housing situation for blacks. According to S. Friedman, H. Tsao, and C. Chen, in their journal article, “Housing Tenure and Residential Segregation in Metropolitan America” black renters are more segregated from white renters than are black owners from white owners. In addition, the article also states that homeownership for blacks is not a viable solution to residential segregation. This is partially because even when black people in Omaha do own homes, they are taxed more heavily than white homeowners, as much as ten percent over the market value of their homes (Burbach).

Solutions

The study finds one solution to segregation in Omaha is investing in the education and infrastructure of predominately black communities. This can help end poverty among the black community in Omaha by giving a better education to children in the area and increasing property values. This will help break the cycle causing residential segregation by allowing access to better schools and jobs as well as an increase in the wealth of homeowners in the area. According to Cordes et. al, investment in the infrastructure of northern Omaha can help tackle poverty in ways never seen before. However, the main solution found by the study to end segregation in Omaha is the Learning Community. The Learning Community allows for a transfer of students from poor districts to more affluent districts with better education in an attempt to end the cycle of poverty among black communities. According to S. Eaton, in her article, “Innovative Nebraska program brings diversity to some highly segregated public schools,” “Eleven school districts pool money that the Learning Community then redistributes via a needs-based formula. The money also provides free transportation to certain students who wish to attend schools not located in the districts where they live. Finally, Learning Community dollars pay for an array of education-related services, including high-quality preschool, to young people and their families who live in Omaha’s poorest neighborhoods.” The learning community can end residential segregation by improving the quality of education for black students, thus removing education from the negative cycle of segregation. The improved education would provide better opportunities for jobs and higher education which in turn would allow blacks in Omaha to improve their housing situations. The scholarly literature supports the idea of education collaboration. K. Finnigan et. al. in their article “Regional Educational Policy Analysis: Rochester, Omaha, Minneapolis’ Inter-district Arrangements” states collaborative education agreements help address the issues of rising segregation in schools and their districts. The article also states that education integration is a possible solution to residential segregation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the study finds residential segregation in Omaha is caused by a cycle of poor education, low incomes, and substandard housing that is influenced by racism. This study agrees with other scholars that education collaboratives are a possible solution to residential segregation. If the education system were improved, it would allow access to a better variety of skills and knowledge which would allow blacks to acquire higher paying jobs. Higher paying jobs, in turn would allow them to purchase and live in better housing situations that can offer a better education, leading to a positive feedback cycle rather than the negative one that currently exists. While much of the scholarly literature and secondary data draws conclusions between two of these factors (education, income, and housing), none of them noted an intersection between all three. However, this study concludes that recognizing and understanding this three-part cycle and the ways in which it is affected by racist practices today is integral to eliminating the problem of residential segregation.

 

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