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The U.S. Cities With The Biggest Gaps Between Rich And Poor

Inequality is growing, and it’s not only in the cities you’d expect.

The most unequal places in America continue to be the biggest, most successful cities. And not surprisingly. There’s inevitability to inequality in New York and Boston, where people go to make large amounts of money. But what’s worrisome is how the gaps are growing. Between 2007 and 2013, the rich-poor gulf widened in 21 of America’s largest 50 cities, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.

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Since the recession, Atlanta and San Francisco have seen big differences open up between their highest and lowest earners, defined by Brookings as the gap between people earning more than 95% of all other households (the 95th percentile) and those earning 20% of other households (the 20th percentile). Other cities with big “95/20 ratios” include Boston, Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York.

From the report:

Across the 50 largest cities, households in the 95th percentile of income earned 11.6 times as much as households at the 20th percentile, a considerably wider margin than the national average ratio of 9.3. This difference reflects the fact that in big cities the rich have higher incomes, and the poor lower incomes, than their counterparts nationally.

The analysis, which uses data from 2012 to 2013, follows up another from last year with similar cities in the “most unequal” Top 10. Cleveland and Dallas are new arrivals this year, though, because “incomes for the rich rose significantly while they stagnated for low-income households,” Brookings says. Going the other way, four cities–including Kansas City and Nashville–posted large improvements to their ratios, “in most cases because low incomes rose while those at the top held steady.”


Inequality has a growing national prominence as an issue, but it’s likely cities will address it before Congress does. Last year, 14 states and the District of Columbia increased their minimum wages, for example. “Observers argue that cities themselves are better positioned to enhance social mobility for low-income residents than the federal government,” Brookings says.

Aside from raising minimum wages, that might mean improving economic and education opportunities, and new housing and zoning policies “that are essential for improving social mobility and sustaining income diversity in big cities today,” Brookings says. Indeed. Lack of affordable housing is a big reason cities have become less affordable. To address inequality, that’s probably a good place for cities to look first.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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