The U.S. Cities Where Income Inequality Is Growing Fastest

We know income inequality is a problem, but we don’t have a good solution: It’s getting worse.

Since the recession, income inequality has increased across the United States, and particularly in its major cities and metro areas. Take a look at these charts and maps from the Brookings Institution, which update and expand upon previous analyses from the think-tank.


Brookings calculates inequality by comparing income among households earning more than 95% of other households (the 95th percentile) with those earning more than only 20% of other households (the 20th percentile). It calls this the “95/20 ratio.”

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Between 2007 and 2014, the nationwide 95/20 ratio climbed from 8.5 to 9.3. In the 100 largest metro areas, the 2014 ratio was 9.7, while in big cities the ratio was much higher–an average of 11.8. Boston, which is the most unequal city according to the analysis, had a ratio of 17.8, while Washington, D.C., had a 15.1 ratio. Inequality grew in 57 of the 100 metros driven mostly by what’s happening in their major cities.

These metros include the Bridgeport area of Connecticut, where incomes at the top end explain widening income gaps (the area is home to a lot of hedge funds). And New Orleans, Miami, and Houston, where stagnating or dropping incomes at the 20th percentile are more likely to explain the differences.

In general, metros with lower-inequality cities have lower inequality overall. These include Las Vegas, Omaha, and Provo, Utah and metros in the Sun Belt, including three in Florida and two in Southern California. These places have large “suburban-style communities within their borders, and thus boast larger middle class populations relative to most cities,” Brookings says.

Why does inequality matter at all? For one thing, research shows that kids from lower income families do better in life when they grow up in mixed-income areas (i.e. alongside rich kids rather than in ghettos of despair). For another, income inequality means an inequality of social contributions, like in tax payments, which leads to political arguments about the way forward. And, thirdly, says Brookings, “local inequality may raise the price of private-sector goods and services for poor households, making it even more difficult for them to get by on their limited incomes.”

There are moral reasons to worry about inequality, but plenty of practical ones, too.


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.