Which Cities Have Had The Best Economic Recovery? None Of Them, Really

Since 2007, median household income and poverty rates have barely moved at all–except in a few exceptional metro areas.

Which Cities Have Had The Best Economic Recovery? None Of Them, Really
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

We’ve covered how the nation’s top earners are feeling the full benefits of the recovery, however, the same can’t be said for the rest of the population.


While local economies have stopped getting worse since the financial and housing markets crashed in 2008, things aren’t really getting much better either.

Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau releases a trove of data about how people live in their communities called the American Community Survey. City planners, home builders, and retailers rely heavily on the results, which are based on surveys of about 3.5 million households.

The 2012 survey for about 7,000 geographic areas show that most states and cities are still struggling to recover from the recession: Incomes remain lower and poverty rates higher in 2012 than they were in 2007, with no statistically discernible improvement or decline since last year’s figures. (A separate Census report also issued this week reflected the same trend nationally–median household income was stagnant, and 15% of Americans were living in poverty, which is near the high of the last 20 years.)

Overall, the statistics, and the lack of change in many of them, reflect a general sense of malaise–that we’ve arrived at a new “normal,” as some experts have put it.

“There is a remarkable disconnect between overall macroeconomic growth and the prosperity of middle- and low-income Americans,” Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden and a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Of the top 25 most populated metro areas, where about 40% of the U.S. population resides, here’s a more detailed look at how they fared by two metrics:


Median Household Income

Since 2011, the Minneapolis and San Antonio metro areas were the only two of the 25 largest areas surveyed that actually saw their median household income rise. On the other side of the spectrum, New York City tops the list of cities for the largest inequality between the rich and the poor.

In Florida, which has the three metro areas with the lowest income in the nation (Tampa; Orlando, and Miami, all ranging from $44,000 to $46,000), economists are essentially celebrating that it could be worse: “At least we can say we have hit bottom and rebounded–although the rebound has not been a full rebound,” Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, a Florida International University economics professor who directs the Center of Economic Research, told the Sun-Sentinel.

Unsurprisingly, the struggling cities of Detroit and Pittsburgh closely followed the cities in Florida for the lowest median household income (both around $50,000).

Metro areas with the overall highest median income were: Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria ($88,233), San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont ($74,922), Boston-Cambridge-Quincy ($71,738), Baltimore-Towson ($66,970), and Minneapolis-St . Paul-Bloomington ($66,282).

Poverty Rates

Poverty figures, too, showed the new stagnation. In the L.A. area, where poverty is now at 17% (compared to 13% in 2007) Bill Parent, associate dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, told the Los Angeles Times: “What is significant and new is that poverty is not rising and falling with the rest of the economy, it is just continuing to rise…This is a terrible ‘new normal.’ The rising tide isn’t lifting all the boats.”

Reflecting the national Minnesota and Texas were the only two states whose poverty rates declined since 2011. No states had declining poverty rates compared to the year 2000, and only six states–North Dakota, Wyoming, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Vermont–managed to hold steady. Nationally, 15 percent of Americans are living below the still-ridiculous poverty line of $23,050 for a family of four.


The metro area with the largest portions of people living in poverty was Riverside, California (19%), while the cities of LA, Miami, Detroit, Phoenix, and San Antonio all hovered closely behind at around mid-17%. If you look at just the largest 10 cities, and not their surrounding suburbs, Philadelphia remains the highest as it has for years with a poverty rate of 27%.

Overall, the larger metro areas with the lowest poverty rates in 2012 were: Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria (8.4%), Minneapolis-St . Paul-Bloomington (10.7%), Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (10.7%), Baltimore-Towson (11.3%), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (11.7%).

There far more data available through the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder tool. The Texas Tribune put together an interactive map that shows some of the data displayed by state, which you can explore here.


About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.