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Louisville Is More Diverse Than Ever But Remains Largely Segregated

Neighborhoods in Louisville and Jefferson County became more racially and ethnically diverse in the past three decades, but the county remains largely segregated. Nearly half of its population lived in places that were isolated by race even though the share of white population rose in the West End of the metro region.

While the non-white population of Jefferson County, home to Louisville Metro, rose to 37% in 2020 from 29% in 2010, a fifth of the Black residents lived in places that were more than 75% Black. Half of its white population lived in more than 75% white neighborhoods. 

In 2020, the county’s white residents accounted for 63% of its population, compared with 71% in 2010 and 83% in 1990, according to Census Bureau’s detailed data on race and ethnicity.

Similar to national trends, Hispanic and multiracial groups were Jefferson County’s fastest growing communities. The proportion of people who identified as more than one race tripled while the Hispanic population made up 8% of the county’s population in 2020 compared to 1% in 1990. 

Due to this increase in non-white populations, the likelihood that two randomly selected people were of different races –– an indicator of diversity –– nearly doubled in the last 30 years. In 2020, the diversity index of Jefferson County was 56 compared with 30 in 1990. A score of 100 means that two randomly selected people would definitely be of different races and a score of 0 means that the two would definitely be of the same race.

Some five decades ago, policies like the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act were enacted to fight racial discrimination and shatter the legacy of redlining. Despite those efforts, Louisville remained deeply segregated with Black population mainly concentrated in the West End. Segregation in the West End grew in the 1960s when 15,000 white residents left due to declining property values and following the 1968 riots at 28th and Greenwood streets in Parkland, a predominantly Black neighborhood.  

With the Black population clustered in these parts of the city, the residents faced decades of discriminatory practices of unfair housing, over-policing, scant access to health care and education and depressing property values –– making west Louisville the city’s poorest area with low property values, the highest population density and the highest density of vacant properties in the city. 

Catherine Fosl, founding director of the UofL Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, said “Louisville is and has long been plentiful” in the kind of segregation that has both residential and wider social aspects “despite its strong record of desegregating schools.”

The share of non-white students has almost doubled to 60% in Jefferson County Public Schools in the past 25 years, according to JCPS’s enrollment data.

In a 2013 federally funded report on fair housing, Fosl and the co-authors underscored that Louisville remains a deeply segregated city as half of its residents lived in what it called “extreme segregation”.

“The persistence of residential segregation and other impediments to fair housing in Louisville is no accident, but the result of a wider system of structural racism on which many of Louisville’s housing policies and practices rest,” the report said. 

“What this history suggests is that Louisville Metro will continue to see affluent white suburban sprawl while its poorer and non-white residents will remain disproportionately clustered in parts of the old city,” it added.

Although the share of white population rose in west Louisville, the neighborhoods such as Shawnee, Russell, Parkland, Chickasaw and Park Hill remained mostly Black with the white population forming a small share of its residents. In the eastern part of Louisville Metro, the share of the white population declined but the neighborhoods remained less diverse compared with the rest of Jefferson County, except the West End.

Last year, Louisville became the epicenter of the racial protests, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, sparked by the killing of Breonna Taylor that advocates say were a consequence of decades of structural racism. Further, the pandemic disproportionately affected people of color highlighting the consequences of structural discrimination that has resulted in Black people living in close quarters, oftentimes in the vicinity of highways and chemical plants with limited access to health care and working daily wage jobs that became dangerous to do in the pandemic. 

The demographic map of the city has changed in the past three decades. However, the racial, economic, educational and health divisions still exist

According to Fosl's report, commissioned by the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, the city needs to further fair housing, inject funding and boost economic development in poorer neighborhoods.

Suhail is a data journalist for WFPL, KyCIR, and the Ohio Valley Resource.

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