Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Social segregation … in schools and crime …

  Yesterday I argued for a assigning some blame to social segregation in the mortgage-backed financial crisis.  Today, I relate two other stories from the American scene that highlight the role of social segregation, which is often fostered by our exclusive land use laws.  In a recent edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Any Waldman reported intelligently in popping popular narratives surrounding the “Jena Six” and racial politics in Louisiana; she reports on the racial gerrymandering that keeps most blacks in the area out of the city boundaries. 
   Another story, by Matt Miller, in the same issue argues that the leading federal education law, No Child Left Behind, has failed in large part by allowing individual states to set their own standards for achievement.  His proposed solution?  A uniform set of national standards, which would butt against both traditional conservative dislike of Washington-imposed solutions and liberal distrust of testing to assess educational quality.  But a national system would help in the battle for spending and other forms of equality in our socially segregated school systems.

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September 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Social segregation and the financial crisis …

   How could it be that some unwise mortgage loans made during a time of national prosperity threaten a collapse of the American financial system?  There is, of course, plenty of blame to go around.  But today I want to highlight the role of social segregation –- segregation both allowed and fostered by our land use laws –- in the financial disaster.      

Housestreet    The mainstream media tends to highlight the risky loans “urged” on families who couldn’t afford them, especially because of complicated loan terms that increased payments beyond the borrower’s reach.  The whispers of a correlation between subprime loans and members of racial minority groups occasionally pops up in an obnoxiously worded comment on Fox News (see the story here) or in some oddly muted stories about lenders “targeting” minorities (see here). These characterizations fit easily into simple political attacks.  But a truth is, at least in some big metro areas, a significant problem (among many others, including the stupidity of lenders and those of bought collaterized mortgage packages) appears to have been that many borrowers were not as careful as they should have been, and that a disproportionate number of these borrowers were members of racial minority groups.

   In Prince William County, Virginia, a once-booming exurb of Washington, for example, anecdotes abound about Latino immigrants who apparently failed to comprehend the details of their complicated mortgage loans.  Foreclosure notices have arrived at about the same time as the county’s legal efforts to discourage illegal immigrants –- or any Latinos, some critics say –- from staying in the county.  Once again, there is plenty of blame to go around, but surely a significant share belongs to the social segregation that continues to plague the nation.  Isolated by land use laws and social politics, many borrowers failed to hold the language skills, the healthy skepticism of complicated contracts, and checklist of cautionary restraints that American families traditionally have held.  And unfortunately, the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis may only to make it harder for minority families to get decent loans and to break through the barriers of social segregation.         

  Tomorrow: more vignettes from social segregation in America …

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September 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)