Posts Tagged ‘cities’


The folks are Bankrate have calculated, for each of the fifty largest U.S. cities, the affordable price for a new car. Their analysis is based on median incomes, average insurance costs, payments on a new car loan, and sales tax data.

The chart above shows how those affordable price points compare. The lower a city appears on the list, the more difficult it would be for the typical car buyer to come up with the money for what Kelley Blue Book said was the average price for a new car or light truck at the time of their analysis: $33,865.

Thus, for example, the average buyer in San José can afford a new car that was priced close to the national average, while residents of Detroit can only afford a car worth just over $6,000, less than a fifth of the cost of the average new car.

Sure, the average price of a new car continues to rise. But the list tells us much more about what’s happened to incomes in the United States. From 2000 to 2014, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans actually fell by $4561 (from $36,913 to $32,352).*

That’s the real reason why most of the residents of the fifty largest U.S. cities can’t afford to come up with the money to purchase a new car.


*The data, from the World Wealth and Income Database, are in real 2014 dollars.


Special mention

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon 981193_1_cartoon160516-01_standard


We already knew (thanks to a Pew Research Center report I discussed here) that the United States is no longer a middle-class nation. Now we know (based on a new Pew report), that American cities have become increasingly less middle-class in the past decade and a half.

Not surprisingly, given the size and diversity of the U.S. economy, not all cities followed the same trajectory: in some cities (a good example is Odessa, Texas, with an energy-based economy), the hollowing-out of the middle-class was because the share of adults who were upper-income increased, while in other cities (such as Springfield, Ohio, with a decline in manufacturing) there was a downward movement, with a large increase in the proportion of the adult population falling into the low-income category.*

But there are broader trends that characterize most cities: they’ve become decreasingly middle-class, and the middle income itself has declined precipitously. Thus, from 2000 to 2014, the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 89 percent of U.S. cities (203 of the 229 metropolitan areas for which data were available, which accounted for three-quarters of the nation’s population in 2014), while in 97 percent of those cities the median income itself declined by more than 8 percent (from $62,462 in 1999 to $67,673 in 2014). In fact, double-digit losses in median incomes (10 percent or more from 1999 to 2014) prevailed in 95 metropolitan areas.

Once again, two highly cherished ideas in the United States—that the nation’s cities are characterized by and based on the middle-class, and that the middle-class itself is improving over time—are shattered by these findings.


The Pew report also revealed that there’s a strong correlation between the overall level of inequality and the decline in the “middle-classedness” of U.S. cities.

When incomes of households near the bottom of the distribution are closer to the incomes of households near the top, it means that relatively more households may be found sitting within a narrower band of income. In other words, it raises the likelihood that more households are situated within the $41,641-to-$124,924 income band that defines the middle class. Meanwhile, if the distance between the top and bottom reaches of the income distribution is stretched farther, households are spread thinner and fewer of them are likely to fall within the middle-income band.


The proportion of middle-income households is also strongly correlated with the change in inequality since 2000.

As it turns out, then, while the change in the share of middle-income adults in U.S. cities is not related to changes in median income, it is strongly correlated with the degree and the change in the degree of income inequality. In other words, as the United States has become more unequal in the past decade and a half, its cities have become increasingly less middle-class.

My previous question thus remains: in the midst of the current political debate, will the decline of the United States as a middle-class nation based on middle-class cities be used as a source of fear, intimidation, and scapegoating—or, alternatively, will it serve as a wakeup call to imagining and creating the kinds of real changes that will finally end the declining fortunes of the working-class and its exclusion from the major decisions about how the economy is organized?


*Pew’s categorization remains the same in this study: “middle-income” households are those with an income that is 67 percent to 200 percent (two-thirds to double) of the overall median household income, after incomes have been adjusted for household size and location. Here’s what the numbers look like:


2014 9520 100 metro map

In 1967, the sociologist Robert Merton coined the phrase the “Matthew effect” (pdf) with respect to rewards in science, drawing on a verse in the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (New International Version).

A new study by the Brookings Institution [ht: ja] confirms just how accurate the Matthew Effect is as a way of describing what has transpired in major U.S. cities and metropolitan areas during the past seven years.

We all know that household income inequality in the United States as a whole is higher today than before the crash of 2007-08. Thus, for example, between 2007 and 2014, the 95/20 ratio nationwide rose from 8.5 to 9.3.

As it turns out, among the 100 largest metro areas, the majority (57) had a significantly higher 95/20 ratio in 2014 than in 2007. They are shown in the map above. Basically, what happened is that most metro areas experienced increases because top incomes were stable or declined slightly over this period, while incomes near the bottom dropped substantially.

Copy of inequality graphics-DJ.xlsx

Indeed, double-digit slides in 20th percentile incomes were quite common across large metro areas. High-income households earned significantly less in 2014 than in 2007 in 33 of the 100 largest metro areas, but the same was true for low-income households in fully 81 of those metro areas. Many of the metro areas experiencing the largest inequality increases also ranked among those with the highest inequality levels in 2014, such as Bridgeport, New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, and New Haven.

The increase in inequality in major U.S. cities and metropolitan areas both contributes to and reflects growing inequality across the country as a whole.

Perhaps we need parables to focus our attention on this growing gap. But we need real economic changes to eliminate it.

Map of the day

Posted: 20 September 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,


As Emily Badger and Lazaro Gamio explain,

Kansas City, St. Louis and and Baltimore are missing holes on a map of American prosperity. They are relatively low-income, encircled by wealth. Cross their county lines into the suburbs, and households there make, in many cases, nearly twice as much.

Same with Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Dallas.

The pattern is a classic American one, built through decades of postwar wealthy flight to the suburbs and disinvestment in cities. But it’s striking today how deeply entrenched this geometry remains at the county level, especially in an era when poverty is expanding into the suburbs and wealthier households are moving back in.

Map median household income by county as we have above with new Census data — showing every county with more than 65,000 people — and, over and over again, you get a similar pattern. There’s a lot of money in the suburbs, and a shortage of it in the city center.


[ht: ja]

Cities are back on the nation’s radar—as the dynamic location of the “knowledge economy” and the “creative class.”

What, then, about the other cities, the spaces of concentrated poverty, structural racism, and police violence? Well, for the past year, we’ve been learning about some of them: Detroit, Ferguson, and Baltimore.

Still, how are all these other cities—three of which are in New York (Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo), according to a new report from the Century Foundation—not on the nation’s radar?



As it turns out, the list of ten metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of Hispanic poverty includes seven of the same areas in the previous list: Syracuse, Detroit, Rochester, Milwaukee, Fresno, Buffalo, and Cleveland.


The concentration of non-Hispanic white poverty, in contrast, is highest in a somewhat different list of metropolitan areas. Detroit, again, and McAllen stand out with more than one-third of their white poor living in high-poverty areas. Detroit, Fresno, and Syracuse are the only metropolitan areas on all three lists, but the concentration of white poverty is much lower in Fresno than in Detroit or Syracuse. Smaller metropolitan areas with fewer than 1 million persons dominate all three lists, but New York, the largest, is included in the list of cities with the highest concentration of white poverty.


There’s no doubt that economic inequality is growing within the great cities, in the United State and around the world. The question is, is inequality killing what is great about those cities?

According to a new report by Alan Berube and Natalie Holmes for Brookings (in an update to an earlier study), inequality in the 50 largest cities in the United States (measured in terms of the disparity between the bottom 20 percent and the top 5 percent) is much higher than the national average.



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. From 2012 to 2013, the inequality ratio widened in both cities and the nation overall, as incomes at the top grew somewhat faster than incomes at the bottom. Notably, incomes grew faster for both the rich and poor in cities than they did elsewhere.

Similar trends have been reported elsewhere, in London and other major cities. (Baltimore, for those keeping track, was ranked twelfth in 2013 inequality, with a 95/20 ratio of 12.3.)

So, are these obscene levels of inequality destroying our cities?

Paul Krugman is not too sure about the historical lessons—but he does admit that “we’re now arguably looking at something new,”

as the really wealthy — domestic malefactors of great wealth, but also oligarchs, princelings, and sheiks — buy up prime real estate and leave it vacant, creating luxury-shopping wastelands at best (I know, snobbish Upper West Side bias), expensive ghost districts at worst.

David Harvey [ht: sk], for his part, sees increasing urbanization around the world connected to widespread “discontent emerging around the quality of urban life.”

So you can see this discontent producing uprisings in some instances, or mass protests like Gezi and what happened in Brazil shortly after Gezi. There is actually a long tradition of urban uprisings — the Paris Commune in 1871 and other instances well before that — but I think that the urban question is really becoming a central question today, and the qualities of urban life are moving to the forefront of what contemporary protests are about. . .

So we are seeing these sorts of emerging urban uprisings in a patchy way all around the world: in Buenos Aires, in Bolivia, in Brazil, etc. Latin America is full of this sort of stuff. But even in Europe we have seen major urban unrest: in London, Stockholm, Paris, and so on. What we have to do is to start thinking of a new form of politics, which is what anti-capitalism should fundamentally be about. Unfortunately, the traditional left still focuses narrowly on workers and the workplace, whereas now it’s the politics of everyday life that really matters.

The problem, as I see it, is neither Krugman nor Harvey offers a convincing class analysis that connects inequality with what is happening to and in the world’s cities. For Krugman, it’s a tiny group of wealthy oligarchs versus everyone else; Harvey seems to believe the “revolts in Baltimore and in Tahrir Square and so on” have nothing to do with the proletariat, at least as envisioned by Marx and Engels.

Now, I’m the first to admit the world has radically changed since the mid-nineteenth century. But that only means we have to update our class analysis of what is occurring within cities—where, to my mind, there is a broad class that is still doing most of the work and a tiny class at the top that is managing to capture a large portion of what those workers produce (within those cities and, in some instances, from cities across the globe). Otherwise, we’re going to fail to recognize the complex class dynamics of what is currently happening in our cities, and of course how they might be reshaped into urban centers that are worthy of the name of great cities.