Bruce Rankin and James Quane “Neighborhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-City African American Families”

Previous research posits there are structural reasons that perpetuate the poverty found in the urban ghetto. William Julius Wilson posits that isolation from mainstream social institutions, such as employment, businesses, churches, and schools, exacerbates already existing social disorganization already present in poor urban areas, leading to reduced life chances for its residents. However, critics have asserted that previous studies rely on socioeconomic data from Census reports rather than investigating the condition of social network ties or level of community involvement. Subsequent sociological research, although limited, attempted to measure the extent that neighborhood ecology affects social isolation. This research found that neighborhoods have limited effect on the levels of social isolation.

Bruce Rankin and James Quane test prior hypotheses on the factors that create and sustain social isolation prevalent in poor neighborhoods. Rather than using data from only poor census tracts, as the previous researchers did, Rankin and Quane use sample areas with greater variability in rates of poverty. They also analyze data regarding length of time residents have lived in the areas under review, a variable not considered in past studies. Improving on past research, Rankin and Quane set out to test the network composition and organization participation as a means to explain levels of social isolation.

Because of the high rates of female headed households, in inner-city neighborhoods, Rankin and Quane investigated network composition and organization participation of mothers in the selected neighborhoods. Measures of network composition included employment status, education levels and status of receiving public assistance of friends. Levels of participation in community organizations were measured through number of times they participated in various community organizations, including block clubs and, neighborhood/tenant groups.

I found their results interesting and unexpected. Although not statistically significant, this study found that whether from high, moderate or low poverty neighborhoods, levels of adult participation in community related activities was comparable in each area. Alternatively, levels of family participation in organizations was highest in neighborhoods with the highest levels of poverty as compared to areas with moderate to low levels of poverty. Rankin and Quane explain this unexpected finding in terms of “community of limited liability”, which essentially means that in order to mediate the high levels of disorder, residents work harder at proactively protecting the community by being involved. Similar to to Sudhir Venkatesh’s account of the way residents of Robert Taylor Homes organized to protect their community from deleterious effects of the very poor public housing.

Jan Lin and Paul Robinson “Spatial Disparities in the Chinese Ethnoburb”

Similarly to Portes and Manning, Jan Lin and Paul Robinson analyzed US Census data from 1990 to 2000 and found data trends contradicting the traditional sociological thought that ethnic enclaves would eventually spatially and socially assimilate into mainstream American culture. Investigating the migration patterns of Chinese immigrants of the San Gabriel Valley in California led Lin and Robinson to discover unassimilated, spatially defined suburban immigrant enclaves, termed ethnoburbs. The researchers argue that ethnoburbs consist of middle and upper class settlements that developed as a result of historical shifts brought about by the civil rights movement as well as urban-level trends that created a shift from urbanized core ethnic enclaves to outer fringe immigrant areas, as can be seen in Chinese immigrant areas of Los Angeles.

Historically, the Chinese immigrants settled on the American west coast with a large concentration in urban areas in California.  As immigrants assimilate to American culture and language, it is expected that they begin to move out of the urban enclaves and move to less homogenous neighborhoods. However, in the Los Angeles Census data from 1990 to 2000, the researchers found that rather than dispersing upon outmigration from the central urban areas, Chinese immigrants that moved from Chinatown Los Angeles gravitated toward ethnic  suburban enclaves, or ethnoburbs, northeast of the city. The migration patterns continued outwardly from this ethnoburban core east to fringe districts.

Differences in median income, levels of educational attainment and assimilation were found among the immigrant residents of the ethnoburban core and the two fringe areas. Residents of the seven core cities had lower levels of socioeconomic status and education levels as compared to immigrants living in the northwest and east fringe districts, with San Marino having the highest levels of education and median income. San Marino had the third highest rate of immigrants speaking only English. Unlike the Jewish immigrants discussed by Portes and Manning, economically successful Chinese immigrants of the northwest fringe areas shed their Chinese languages in exchange for English. Homeownership rates were fairly high among all areas; similar to other immigrant groups in this week’s readings, Chinese immigrants quickly accumulated capital and secured means necessary for upward social mobility. Between 1980 and 1990, homeownership rates grew by 72% as compared to just 57% for native-born whites.

The researchers conclude that two avenues for social mobility exist in the Chinese ethnoburbs of LA; either through cultural assimilation and higher education attainment or live in ethnic enclaves of the core ethnoburb where levels of assimilation and education do not preclude Chinese immigrants from attaining it.

Alejandro Portes and Robert D. Manning “The Immigrant Enclave”

Contrary to prior thought on immigration, there are differences in patterns of assimilation into American culture, differences mainly in the forms of entry into the labor market; either through primary labor market immigration and middlemen entrepreneurship. Two large groups of immigrants did not follow the traditional pattern of assimilation into the US mainstream culture. As earlier evidence suggested, three typical patterns exist; the brain drain drain where occupationally skilled workers (e.g., craftsmen, technicians and professionals) immigrate to alleviate labor shortages; political refugees emigrate to seek asylum and typically receive help assimilating from government agencies; and middlemen minorities. Migrating through each of these patterns typically leads to mobility gains allowing ethnic immigrants to settle in various places, without creating spatially concentrated ethnic communities. A distinctly separate pattern, which did create immigrant enclaves, is associated with two early immigrant groups to America, German-Jewish immigrants and Japanese immigrants of the 19th century.

Jewish and Japanese migration patterns differed in terms of settlement from other immigrant groups but were similar to one another. The first major wave of Jewish immigrants were from Germany, were highly educated and had big success in America within a few decades of migrating. Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants were not as educated as their German counterparts but they received a lot of help from the predecessors including shelter and food, and jobs. German-Jewish immigrants were willing to do this as they wanted to join forces so to speak to ensure ethnic survival. Both groups learned American culture only to the extent needed in order to prosper economically, otherwise they held on to their heritage. This minimalistic acculturation was possible because of their ethnic enclave in Manhattan, NY. here they could help each other advance through protected access to jobs, informal lines of credit and strong business networks. The dominant American group felt threatened by their strong ethnic group that they became hostile toward them because of their “clannishness” and ability to prosper in the primary labor market of their ethnic economy. So hostile in fact that they urged schools set limits on the number of Jewish students admitted colleges, for fear they would take spots away from Americans.

Following the first major immigration of German-Jews to the east coast, Japanese immigrants began their own migration to the west coast around 1890. Japanese immigrants sought to accumulate capital, primarily for land purchases. In the beginning, Japanese immigrants were in the wage labor market and Americans were fine with this arrangement. However, when immigrants began to purchase land and become entrepreneurial agricultural farmers, Americans became hostile toward them and went so far as to have legislature enact the Alien Land Law restricting ownership to American born citizens. Similar to the Jewish immigrants in New York, Japanese immigrants utilized ethnic lines of credit as well cooperative business relationships that advanced ethnic capital, rather than serving in the secondary labor market.

The historic ethnic enclaves of Jewish and Japanese immigrants, as well as the contemporary enclaves of Koreans in LA and Cubans in Miami, serve to provide support for each generation to increase economic mobility in the next primarily through education and employment. It seems the argument that in order to be successful in America assimilation is required. These distinct ethnic groups have proven that is not the case. Shedding the culture and language and beliefs of your native land is not necessary for successful survival in a new culture.