Readers lusting for blood—bright, metallic, righteous-tasting blood, in the headline "Study Finds Greater Income Inequality in Nation's Thriving Cities" will instead find only nuance. Sensible, perplexing, damnable nuance.
In their report on local incomes across the country, The Brookings Institution affirms what many have determined before them: big cities are unequal places. This is unsurprising given that the affluent and the poor are both attracted to the opportunity that big cities provide. Also, the rich are richer and the poor are poorer in big cities.
Atlanta and San Francisco topped the list of the most unequal cities ("In San Francisco, skyrocketing housing costs may increasingly preclude low-income residents from living in the city altogether.") while New York is sixth. The study describes where the greatest increases in inequality were found:
Only 18 other cities among the top 50 registered statistically significant increases in their inequality ratios over those five years. Interestingly, most were not places where the rich made astronomical gains, but where low-income households suffered most from the recession and weak recovery. Many are Southern and Western cities—including Sacramento, Charlotte, Tucson, Fresno, and Albuquerque—where house-price collapses reduced work opportunities for poor households. Inequality was also up in places like Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee, where poverty deepened as local manufacturing industries declined during the recession. In those cities, however, inequality has not become a leading political issue.
While your big city might be disturbingly unequal (and it is), some of the same factors that make it unequal are what also make it "economically vibrant" and relatively stable.
"These more equal cities—they're not home to the sectors driving economic growth, like technology and finance," the report's author, Alan Berube told the Times. "In terms of actual per capita income growth, these are not places that would be high up the list."
An economist used this reasoning as a political cudgel against de Blasio's campaign message. Our governor is using this reasoning to slash $400 million in taxes for banks and corporations, lest we lose our competitive edge, the edge that makes us unequal and strong. Meanwhile, the Brookings report urges caution.
"High-income households did not lose much ground during the recession," Berube continues. "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."