Rockford’s segregation declined between 1970-2000

• ‘Hypersegregation’ still exists, despite decline

Segregation in Rockford began to decrease about 1970 but remained very high for the next 30 years, according to The Brookings Institution’s April 2001 essay about segregation in the U.S., titled “Racial Segregation in the 2002 Census: Promising News.” Rockford’s decrease in segregation between 1970 to 2000, follows a trend for the average of all U.S. metropolitan areas.

The researchers, economists David M. Cutler and Edward L. Glaeser of Harvard University, and Terry Sanford and Jacob L. Vigdor of Duke University, used two criteria to measure segregation—dissimilarity and isolation. Dissimilarity measures the extent to which blacks and non-blacks inhabit different areas of a city. Isolation measures the extent of blacks’ contact with non-blacks.

Both measures, which are given values on a scale from zero or near zero to one, decreased considerably in Rockford from 1970 to 2000, but remained very near levels considered very high (see charts). Cities with dissimilarity values above 0.6 represent “hypersegregation,” according to the authors.

Dissimilarity, which is defined as the proportion of blacks (or non-blacks) that would need to move across census tracts to get an even proportion of black residents in a city, declined in Rockford from 0.81 in 1970 to 0.61 in 2000.

Rockford’s 2000 dissimilarity index of 0.61 means 61 percent of Rockford’s black residents would have to move out of their present residences to achieve an even proportion of black residents throughout the city. The researchers said a dissimilarity value of 0.3 is considered low.

The authors note that “cities that are highly segregated with one measure tend to be highly segregated with all measures.” As a result, the researchers focused their efforts to analyzing dissimilarity values.

Of the 291 cities analyzed across the U.S., the average dissimilarity value dropped from 0.74 in 1960 to 0.49 in 2000, which compares to Rockford’s 0.61 in 2000. The authors said: “The decline in segregation comes about primarily from the integration of formerly entirely white census tracts.” However, “The Northeast and Midwest are still quite segregated.”

Mike Williams, Rockford School District Board member and executive director of Rock River Training Corporation, said of the decline in segregation: “It’s good news for the city and good news for the community.” However, Williams cautioned “whether it can be maintained in light of the recent events concerning the local economy will be interesting to follow over the next 10 years.”

Williams attributed Rockford’s decline in segregation to minorities’ increased income and housing purchase opportunities, prohibition on “redlining” areas of a city and monitoring of lending institutions’ loan practices.

Redlining is the practice by a lending institution or insurance company to deny credit or insurance to people based on their ethnicity or where they reside. Redlining was practiced heavily in the Midwest after blacks from the South migrated, in large numbers, to the North during the 20th century, especially after World War II. The result of redlining was the rise of black ghettos throughout the North.

The March 2004 issue of Scientific American said, “the northern ghettos and their poverty remain, arguably, the No. 1 problem in the U.S.”

Joel Cowan, assistant dean and demographics researcher at the UIC College of Medicine in Rockford, said: “Desegregation indices clearly show that Rockford has become far more integrated over the past decade.” As evidence, Cowan cited another similar study conducted by different researchers at the State University of New York at Albany.

Cowan said Rockford was in the top 25 percent of metropolitan areas in terms of segregation indices, “but now we’ve come down to where we’re almost typical of other metropolitan areas for blacks and actually better than other metropolitan areas for Hispanics.”

According to the Albany researchers, Rockford’s dissimilarity index for White-Hispanics was 0.39 in 2000, which compares to 0.45 for the average of 331 U.S. cities. In the Albany study, the White-Black dissimilarity index was 0.55 or 0.06 points less than the 0.61 reported in the Brookings essay.

Al English, director of the Homeless Program at the Metro Christian Center, said: “Overall conditions for blacks have improved, and there are more opportunities, but you have to avail yourself of those opportunities.” However, “Our churches are still quite segregated,” English said

The other measure of segregation in the Brookings essay, isolation, was 0.37 in Rockford in 1970 and declined to 0.29 in 2000. Of the 291 cities analyzed, the average isolation value dropped from 0.43 in 1960 to 0.20 in 2000, which compares to Rockford’s 0.29 in 2000.

Rockford’s isolation value of 0.29 means the average black resident lives in an area in which the black share of the population in that area exceeds Rockford’s overall black population average by 29 percent.

For example, 2000 census data indicates 17.4 percent of Rockford’s population is black. By adding the 2000 isolation index of 29 percent (or 0.29) to the percentage of Rockford’s population that is black, 17.4 percent, reveals that the average black resident in Rockford lives in an area where 46.4 percent of the residents are black in that census tract. Rockford’s isolation index that was reported by the Brookings team is reflected in similar findings in the Albany study.

The Albany researchers found that nearly all blacks and Hispanics in Winnebago County live in Rockford. According to the 2000 census data, 88.9 percent of Winnebago County’s black population lives in Rockford. Rockford is also home to 79.5 percent of Winnebago County’s Hispanic population.

To view The Brookings’ Institution April 2001 study, visit:

To view Rockford and other cities’ data, visit: To view the Albany researchers data, visit:

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