Johns Hopkins University
“Why Poor People Move (and Where They Go): Residential Mobility, Selection, and Racial Segregation”
Thursday, January 24, 2013 – 12:20pm
Faculty Lounge, 3rd floor Armitage Hall
The reproduction of segregation and unequal neighborhood attainment has long been a social problem identified by scholars. Despite demonstrating high levels of residential mobility, low-income black families are less likely than any other group to escape disadvantaged neighborhoods. These findings call for research to identify the mechanisms which work to channel families into unequal neighborhoods. Using in-depth interviews with 100 low-income African-American families residing in Mobile, AL and Baltimore, MD, we describe how the process of relocation works for the urban poor and how families engage in the process of neighborhood selection throughout their residential biographies. In a striking departure from traditional research on mobility, we find that most families do not choose to move at all, with more than 70 percent of all most recent moves being catalyzed by forces which induce immediate, often involuntary relocation. We show how this “reactive mobility” works to accelerate and hamper residential selection in ways that may reproduce neighborhood context. Where mobility happens voluntarily, we show how these choices are often made under circumstances which prohibit families from investigating their full range of residential options. We also show how parenting in the inner city and a lifetime of experience in violent communities sets expectations low for neighborhood quality, but high for housing unit characteristics.