A new way to track the enduring impact of historic redlining

New Methodology Provides Fresh Insights For Researchers, Policymakers

More than 8 million Americans live in neighborhoods that decades ago were systematically excluded from loans and investments through a racist system known as redlining. More than three-quarters of the residents identify as a minority, and their neighborhoods have greater levels of housing vacancy or abandonment compared to other neighborhoods. The life expectancies of the people living there are shorter, along with other disparities including diminished access to credit, capital and opportunities to build personal wealth.

A new study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) provides a more detailed view of the continuing impacts of 20th Century redlining on 21st Century lives, and it offers a new technique for researchers and policy makers to assess other socioeconomic outcomes and trends in formerly redlined neighborhoods.

The new report reconciles current socioeconomic census tract data with original redlining maps from the mid-20th century. 

“People often think redlining is a sorry saga from our history books, a regrettable episode from the days when cars had fins and movies didn’t have special effects,” said Bruce Mitchell, a senior researcher at NCRC and one of the study authors. “But now, residents of some formerly redlined neighborhoods have a life expectancy of 21 years less than those in the Whitest, wealthiest portions of the city that were shaded green and labeled ‘best’ on the old federal maps. Redlining concentrated disadvantage in neighborhoods in many ways. Some of the worst are the public health impacts – with higher rates of asthma, hypertension, and other serious health problems. This is not an historical artifact, but an ongoing public health crisis potentially affecting one in every 40 Americans today.”

The new research used fine-scale geographic data tools to map present-day socioeconomic data onto the physical spaces represented in Home Ownership Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining maps first drawn in the 1930s. The researchers created a new methodology to enable researchers and policymakers to analyze the public health, economic, and social legacies of redlining at a previously unavailable level of detail using both 2010 and 2020 census tract boundaries. These data are distributed for free on openICPSR.

An explainer on their findings can be viewed here. The full research paper with methodological details is available here.

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