Neighborhood Quality Across Metropolitan Areas: Does Living in the Suburbs Bring Parity By Race and Ethnicity?
Living in the suburbs is thought to provide access to higher-quality schools, better housing and reduced crime rates. For these reasons, public interventions have promoted suburban living through a variety of subsidies at every level of government. At the same time, barriers to minority groups' access to the suburbs have weakened as Civil Rights legislation and court decisions have decreased discrimination in housing markets. As the suburbs grow increasingly diverse, it is important to consider whether suburban living truly confers benefits, and whether all households share these benefits equally. If conventional notions of the suburbs - that they are areas of opportunity and moving to them represents assimilation with the majority culture - are true, these neighborhoods should not only be of better quality, but gaps in neighborhood quality between minority and white households should attenuate there as compared to cities. This paper examines whether this is the case by evaluating racial and ethnic differences in neighborhood conditions for residents of cities and suburbs. Using data from the 2005 panel of the American Housing Survey (AHS), I examine neighborhood conditions across two measures, neighborhood crime and odor pollution, and find evidence contrary to expectations about the benefits of suburban living. Specifically, I find that black households are disadvantaged relative to whites in terms of both of my indicators of neighborhood quality in cities after controlling for available social, economic and life-cycle characteristics. Moreover, this disadvantage persists in suburbs. While Hispanic households are equally as likely as whites to experience odor pollution in both urban and suburban locations and crime problems in cities, they are actually more likely than whites to experience crime problems in suburbs. Lastly, Asian households represent an important exception to the pattern of minority disadvantage, as these households are either equally as likely or less likely to experience problems in both residential locations. Finally, while the relative position of these minority households compared to whites does not improve in the suburbs, it is important to note that in absolute terms, households of all races and ethnicities experience more neighborhood problems in cities than in suburbs.
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