A Brookings Institution study found that America’s big cities have the highest levels of income inequality, which has profound implications for blacks, who tend to live in big cities. Income inequality has risen to unbelievable heights under President Obama’s administration, and at faster levels.
Brookings found that income inequality is sharply higher in cities such as New York City and San Francisco, while it’s lower in less dynamic cities such as Columbus, Ohio, and Wichita, Kansas. That’s mainly because the rich aren’t as rich in those cities as they are in New York City, for example.
President Obama has committed his second term to addressing income inequality, starting with a push to increase the minimum wage. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said his top priority is improving the lives of the city’s poor, pledged to raise taxes on the rich and expand early-childhood education, as well as affordable housing.
Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates have made the issue of income inequality a major part of the campaign. Democratic State Attorney Martha Coakley said in a recent speech at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, “The difference between the haves and the have-nots in this country is stark.” “But it’s among the sharpest right here in Massachusetts. We’re No. 4 in the U.S. when it comes to income inequality.”
The Brookings Institution study found that in 2012 the big cities with the biggest imbalance between rich and poor (they have the highest ratio of households in the top five percent by income and in the bottom 20 percent) were Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami and Boston. Each of these cities, excluding San Francisco, had a large black population, particularly Atlanta, where it is over 50 percent.
In Atlanta, the richest five percent of households earned more than $280,000, while the poorest 20 percent earned less than $15,000. Washington, D.C., New York Cithy, Oakland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore all had large imbalances between rich and poor.
Brookings found that poverty is an important factor at the local level. The biggest factor in income inequality is that the rich keep getting richer. Also, America’s 50 biggest cities grew during the recession because the poor got poorer, not because the incomes of the rich fell. Alan Berube (@berubea1), author of the study, said, “High-income households did not lose much ground during the recession.” “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.”