The Fall of Violence and the Reconfiguration of Urban Neighborhoods

Working Paper, 2020 (with Patrick Sharkey)

Abstract: Over the past few decades, American cities have undergone dramatic change driven in large part by two major trends: the fall of violence, and the rise of urban inequality. Despite the attention given to each of these trends, there has been little research designed to assess how they are related to each other. This study is the first one to generate causal evidence on the impact of violent crime on economic residential segregation. We document the impact of the crime drop on economic segregation in 645 cities in the United States between 1990 and 2015, using temporal shocks to city crime rates to identify causal effects. We find a strong causal effect of violence on the segregation of poor households, but we find no impacts on the segregation of affluent households. Our findings indicate that while the crime decline has not overturned the trend toward rising economic segregation, it has slowed its pace. In cities where crime declined more substantially, the segregation of poor households has grown more slowly or not at all. Additional exploratory results suggest that falling violence reduces the segregation of poverty by inducing an inflow of residents who are more likely to be white and have a college education into neighborhoods that had the highest poverty rates in 1990. In the full national sample, we find little evidence that poor residents have been pushed out or left high-poverty neighborhoods as crime has fallen. However, in cities with tight housing markets where vacancy rates were low in 1990, we do find evidence that falling violence also leads to migration of poor households out of high-poverty neighborhoods, a finding that could reflect a process of gentrification and displacement of the poor. Although the rise of urban inequality has continued even as violence has fallen, the crime decline has had its greatest impact on concentrated poverty, which has long been thought of as one of the most problematic and harmful dimensions of urban inequality.

Draft available upon request.