Study shows economically segregated Ann Arbor metro area

By Anastassios Adamopoulos, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 10, 2015

The University and the City of Ann Arbor take pride in the scores of “top 10” rankings they rack up each year. However, Ann Arbor and its surrounding areas may not be pleased to reach the top of one particular list.

The Ann Arbor Metropolitan Area was ranked the eighth most economically segregated metro area in the United States, according to a recent study from the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute. Tallahassee, Fla. ranked first.

“Segregated City: The Geography of Economic Segregation in America’s Metros” looked at economic segregation in more than 350 metropolitan areas across the United States and attempted to draw connections to other characteristics of these areas including income, race, political orientation and housing costs.

In this study, segregation means that members of a particular category are more likely to live amongst themselves, as opposed to living with members from different occupational demographics. For example, a high ranking for segregation of the wealthy means the wealthy are more likely to live near other wealthy people than in more diversely populated areas.

“Economic segregation” is composed of three types of segregation: income segregation, educational segregation and occupational segregation.

Income segregation draws a contrast between those who are “wealthy” and those who are “poor,” whereas educational segregation identifies individuals by two specific groupings: non-high school graduates and college graduates.

Occupational segregation splits working people into three subcategories — creative, service and working class. The “creative” class is defined to include jobs related to social science, arts and STEM fields; the service class pertains to those who work jobs in retail and personal care, among others; and the working class addresses those working in fields like maintenance and construction.

The average wage for creative class workers was $70,000 per year; service class workers made approximately $30,000 per year; members of the working class made $37,000 per year on average.

“All three types of segregation — income, educational, and occupational — are associated with one another,” the study notes. “If a metro is segregated on one dimension, it increases the likelihood of it being segregated on the others.”

The study explains that traditionally, most research on economic segregation uses income segregation as a sole parameter in their analysis.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Charlotta Mellander, one of the study’s authors, said the inclusion of educational and occupational segregation is a reflection of today's reality.

“Today, we know that more than income matters when it comes to options in life,” she said. “What you’ve studied and what you work with matter to a large extent too. And these three factors — job, education and income — are often mentioned as the three major dividers.”

Donald Grimes, a senior research area specialist for the University’s Institute on Labor, Employment and the Economy, said he was not surprised with the Ann Arbor Metropolitan Area’s high ranking for overall economic segregation in the study.

He said a main reason for this is the division between the western and eastern regions of Washtenaw County. The western part, he said, is a knowledge-based economy. By contrast, the eastern part of the county has tended to be dependent on the manufacturing industry, which has taken a hit in terms of jobs and income in the past decade.

“Normally you don’t see quite as stark a divide between the activity in one part of the county and the activity in another part of the county,” he said, adding that an area like Pittsfield Township has a mixture of the two types of economic activity. “It’s just this is enormous divide in the economic base of the Ypsilanti region and of the Ann Arbor region.”

Occupational segregation

The Ann Arbor Metropolitan Area has a highly segregated workforce. Occupational segregation in the area ranked fifth nationally.

Occupational segregation was most prevalent among Ann Arbor’s service class. Ann Arbor falls second only to Ithaca, New York as the most segregated service class in the United States.

Ann Arbor’s working class was also segregated, but less so than the service class. It is the fifth most segregated working class in the nation, and this is positively associated with population density, population size and income inequality, among other factors.

Additionally, segregation in the working class is associated with “the share of the workforce in the creative class, the share of adults with college degrees, and the concentration of high-tech industry.”

The study notes that the more an area’s industries are “knowledge-based,” the more likely it is for members of the service and working classes to be segregated.

Overall, 94 percent of citizens 25 years and older in Washtenaw County — which includes the Ann Arbor Metropolitan Area — have a high school diploma, while 51.3 percent of citizens in this demographic hold a bachelor’s degree.

Poverty and the University

The metro area’s population of people classified as poor is also highly segregated. The Ann Arbor Metropolitan Area is the fifth most segregated area in this demographic nationally.

While the area is better off than the state of Michigan in terms of per capita income, median household income and bachelor degree achievement rates, poverty is still a challenge — 15.4 percent of the Ann Arbor Metropolitan Area’s population lived below the poverty line between 2009 and 2013. The rate for the whole state is 16.8 percent for this period.

The study finds that one of the main reasons places like Ann Arbor are so economically segregated, especially in the segregation of the poor, is because of the presence of universities, a phenomenon referred to as the “town-gown split.”

“University faculty, students, and administrative staff cluster around campuses and the rest of the city is left to service workers,” the study reads. “Often this pattern of economic segregation has been exacerbated by university expansion efforts that encroached upon and displaced urban neighborhoods.”

The University enrolled 43,625 for Fall 2014 students and currently employs 45,397 people. It also owns roughly 9.4 percent of city land.

This was a major topic during last year’s mayoral race, in which candidates discussed potential solutions to the University’s expansion — the more property the University buys, the more tax revenue the city loses.

The overall issue of town-gown relations raises the question of whether Ann Arbor can ever eradicate high economic segregation levels without changing the fundamental role of the University.

Affordability

According to the study, median housing costs have a "modest association" with overall economic segregation.

The study found that housing costs are related to educational and occupational segregation, but not strongly connected to income segregation.

Mellander said spatial segregation — the idea that members of a single class tend to live together — is probably mostly related to housing opportunities. She noted that often, an area’s affluence might not reflect the fact that it is very spatially segregated. This, she added, is a serious issue.

“However, at the same time, we see that metros that are doing well economically also tend to be more segregated (across all of the studied groups) and this is probably one of the most important questions to solve for the future, since it is the mix of different backgrounds and knowledge that is the strength of the city and the foundation for new ideas and innovation,” she said.

Last month, Ann Arbor City Council adopted the Housing Affordability and Equity Analysis, which calls for the construction of 3,139 new affordable homes in Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township by 2035. The resolution also calls for the construction of 4,178 new middle class homes in Ypsilanti by the same deadline.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) noted that affordable housing is intended for people across a variety of professions, including teachers, secretaries, research assistants and outreach workers.

“We as a municipality need to do what we can to ensure that there are housing options for people of all income ranges,” Taylor said.

Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) voted against adopting the resolution, and was skeptical about the potential effects of following its guidelines, such as changes to the city of Ann Arbor’s demographics.

“You can’t really look at it in isolation,” Eaton said. “If we change the demographics of Ann Arbor that doesn’t mean that it will be to the benefit of Ypsilanti. It could just mean that we chase people out of Ann Arbor into other townships.”

Grimes said the role of affordable housing tends not to be taken advantage of in areas where most citizens have a bachelor’s degree, like Ann Arbor. He added that affordable housing, which is often built in undesirable areas, doesn’t draw college graduates.

However, he said Ypsilanti’s economic diversity could benefit from attracting residents with higher incomes.

“My hope is that housing in the city of Ypsilanti in particular becomes less affordable, because that will be a sign that they are attracting people with higher incomes,” Grimes said.

He said Washtenaw County’s ability to reduce economic segregation depends on whether or not proper strategies are implemented to alter job opportunities in its eastern region.

“It really sort of depends on whether or not the eastern part of the county succeeds in attracting high-wage, knowledge-economy jobs,” he said.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article listed housing costs as a "key factor" of economic segregation. Median housing costs have a "modest association" with economic segregation.