Rice U. Expert Says Houston's Class Segregation Brings Consequences

The Pew Research Center says Houston is more geographically segregated when it comes to income and class than any other metro area in the country. One sociologist says if this kind of class segregation continues unabated, it could have serious consequences for social mobility.

Stephen Klineberg of Rice University has spent 30 years tracking social, economic, and political changes in and around Houston. He says there are two key factors that shape Houston's class segregation — an economy that has shifted from manufacturing to industries based on higher education, and relatively cheap land in the suburbs.

"And Americans are uncomfortable in any context where there are lots of people much richer than me, and lots of people much poorer than me.  And, in Houston, you have more opportunity to live in those kind of homogeneous environments than most other cities."

But Klineberg says when the rich live only near the rich, and the poor live only near the poor — upward mobility takes a hit.  He explains the more isolated people are by social class, the less likely it is for people on the lower end to get the educational and career opportunities that would enable them to get ahead.

"And the more separate these worlds become, and the more polarized the understandings of reality come to be, that seems to me to be very dangerous for the future and the social fabric of America."

Klineberg says the long-term result could be the rich walling themselves off from the rest of society.  Klineberg says income segregation may be lessened by policies like better access to higher-quality education, and a more progressive income tax.  He would also like to see a higher minimum wage that keeps up with inflation, and a reinvestment in roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure.

Bio photo of David Pitman

David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...