Most Economically Thriving U.S. Cities Have Greatest Income Inequality

Saturday, February 22, 2014
East 51st Street, New York City (photo: Wally Santana, AP)

The disparity between rich and poor Americans is most prominently on display in the nation’s urban powerhouses like New York, San Francisco, and other cities thriving economically.


In contrast, income inequality is not as big a problem in cities with more modest economic outcomes, like Columbus, Ohio, and Wichita, Kansas.


These are two of the most startling findings contained in a new report by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington D.C.


Essentially, cities said to be “vibrant” because of their total amount of income don’t do a very good job of sharing their wealth.


That’s why income inequality is so stark in Boston or San Francisco, where rich families might earn 15 or 16 times more than what poor families take home.


In places like Virginia Beach or Wichita, the gap can much smaller, about six or seven to one.


The Great Recession helped widen the chasm between the haves and have-nots in the wealthiest urban centers.


In San Francisco, the average low-income household lost about $4,000 in earnings during the downturn and weak recovery. Meanwhile, the typical rich household in the city saw its income rise by $28,000 over the same period.


Even among the less thriving metropolises like Sacramento and Cleveland, income disparity grew worse—primarily because those at the bottom of society sank even further.

“High-income households did not lose much ground during the recession,” Alan Berube, who authored the Brookings report, told The New York Times. “Low-income households lost ground and haven’t gained it back. And the pressures around cost of living are higher at the low end than they are at the high end.”


Most low-inequality cities are found in the South and the Midwest, according to the study. Their highest incomes average around $150,000 to $200,000 a year, whereas San Francisco’s is $354,000.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Study Finds Greater Income Inequality in Nation’s Thriving Cities (by Annie Lowrey, New York Times)

All Cities Are Not Created Unequal (by Alan Berube, Brookings Institution)

U.S. Income Inequality Reaches Record Extreme (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

If You Want your Children to Climb Income Ladder, Leave the South, Move to Neighborhood with Good Schools and Two-Parent Families (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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