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ASHINGTON, May 5 Most black and white children are living in increasingly segregated neighborhoods, especially in major metropolitan areas in the Midwest and Northeast, a new analysis of the latest census data shows.
Though, over all, blacks and whites live in slightly more integrated areas now than they did in 1990, the segregation of their children worsened in the decade, according to the analysis by researchers at the State University of New York at Albany.
The conflicting trends between children and the overall population reflect the continuing exodus of white families with children from cities to largely white suburbs, leaving more childless whites to live in more integrated neighborhoods, researchers said. They noted that settings that forced racial integration, like college dormitories, did not include children.
The findings carry unsettling implications for race relations in a nation that, while more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, still has several major urban areas where white and black children are interacting less frequently.
"It's a very big problem for white children who may think they're experiencing diversity in the country, but are only getting a taste of it," said John R. Logan, a sociologist at the university who also did a study last month on overall racial segregation trends in American neighborhoods.
"The problem for minority children is that, on average, they're growing up in neighborhoods where they are the majority, and that's not the world they will live in," he said.
Levels of black and white segregation of children under 18 are uneven across the country. In a swath of northern cities from Milwaukee to Detroit to New York, segregation levels of black and white children grew sharply in the last decade, largely as a result of white flight.
But a countertrend is mounting in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and other metropolitan areas in the Pacific Northwest, where white and black youngsters live in increasingly integrated neighborhoods, researchers found.
Many of the nation's largest public schools have been struggling for years to cope with growing black- white segregation among youths. In Milwaukee, blacks make up 61 percent of the city's 60,000 public school pupils, up from 46 percent of the city's 41,000 schoolchildren in 1980.
"It's white flight and it's increasingly difficult to have any kind of meaningful desegregation or integration," said Aquine Jackson, director of student services for the Milwaukee public school system.
To measure segregation levels, researchers at the state university used what they call a dissimilarity index, which captures the degree to which two racial groups are evenly spread among census tracts in a city. A neighborhood was defined as a census tract, which is 4,000 to 6,000 people.
The index ranges from 0 to 100, giving the percentage of one group who would have to move to achieve an even residential pattern one where every tract replicates the group composition of the city.
A value of 60 or above is considered very high segregation. Values of 40 to 50 are usually considered moderate levels of segregation, while values of 30 or less are considered low.
Nationally, the black-white segregation index rating for children was 68.3 in 2000, compared with 65.5 in 1990. Over all, the black-white segregation rating was 65.1 in 2000, compared with 69.4 in 1990.
Of the top 50 metropolitan areas, the 10 most segregated, by neighborhood, for black and white children were, in order: Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Newark, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Ala., and St. Louis. The segregation index ratings ranged from 86 in Detroit to 77 in St. Louis.
The 10 least segregated areas for black and white youths were, in order: Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.; Norfolk, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Augusta, Ga.; Greenville, S.C.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Columbia, S.C.; San Diego, and Sacramento. The segregation ratings ranged from Riverside's 47 to Sacramento's 58.
The relatively low segregation levels in these cities reflect their proximity to military bases, as well as a growing number of blacks who have moved to the South from other parts of the country in the last decade.