Cities have become increasingly economically segregated in the last decade or so, according to various studies (for example, this one). There’s been some pretty substantial discussions about this and what it all means across the Internet by people far more intelligent than I could ever hope to be, so I’m not going to dive extremely deep here. We’ve talked before about the cities with highest/lowest inequality, but this is a different discussion: this is about communities where low-income people tend to live with low-income people, and high-income people tend to live with high-income people. This is vaguely similar to another economic argument you’ll hear here and there, namely that people tend to marry around their pre-existing socioeconomic class, so marriage isn’t really a tool that shifts economic fortunes/demographics.
Here’s a main post from Richard Florida at Atlantic Cities that covers this all in some detail, and here’s another post from Pew Research Center that uses a slightly different methodology and selection of cities to break down where income segregation is happening.
First, take a look at the “heat map” of where income segregation is most pronounced (you’re looking for the dark blue areas):
See a pattern there? The Northeast corridor. Miami. Parts of California and Texas. Basically, all those places are typically where people with money go (or already were). It’s probably not that big a surprise that income segregation is big in those areas.
The top five cities on this metric (i.e. the worst) were:
|Rank||Metro||Index||Rank of All Metros|
|1||San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||0.700||7|
|3||New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA||0.653||12|
|4||Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX||0.647||13|
The bottom five (i.e. the best) were:
|49||Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||0.283||256|
The top five mostly shouldn’t surprise you; NYC and DC are within that I-95 corridor from the above heat map. Houston has wide swaths of wealth (oil/energy/gas) and wide swaths of poverty as well, and they generally tend to cluster together. I’m a little surprised about San Antonio, but just knowing the number and rank doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s a lot of context behind it, including housing prices, neighborhood evolutions, family settling patterns, even proximity to churches, etc. Memphis I completely believe. I was there last week and drove around a bit. There are staggeringly rich areas and then staggeringly poor areas, oftentimes 5-6 minutes driving apart from each other. That rank doesn’t shock me.
Here’s a key thing to note about all this:
In other words, income segregation is more closely related to the gap between the rich and the poor (captured by income inequality) than the overall level of development or affluence (measured by income, wages or economic output per capita).
In terms of the bottom list, that’s cool that Seattle is on there — that’s a place that could emerge as a secondary tech hub behind San Francisco, so to see income segregation / income inequality relatively lower there is a positive sign. Orlando I have no idea. I’ve never really been there except for conferences/Disney, which I suppose is how most of America contextualizes Orlando, so I have no idea about housing patterns. Again, Virginia Beach shows up as a place with low levels of inequality across different metrics. Move there.
Salt Lake City and Minneapolis appear in the bottom 10 (the good side), showing again that Salt Lake City and Minneapolis might be some of the best places to live in America if you don’t mind the cold.
Should be noted (probably should have said it earlier): on some of those charts above, you see “rank of all metros.” The charts pasted above are for large metros; San Antonio is No. 1 for large, but No. 7 overall — ironically, 4 of the 10 cities (across all 350 mapped) with the highest income segregation are in Texas. Why would that be? Here’s one explanation:
“If you take and look at an area that’s had relatively little growth … they’re going to likely have less of this kind of segregation than are areas that have large numbers of new residents and new immigrants,” said Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor and former state demographer.
Makes sense. So the broader context behind all this is pretty basic: if rich people only live with rich people, that creates a broader disconnect between them and the poor/”the real issues.” Companies and stores love to build in rich areas; less so in poor areas. So eventually you get to a point where you never need to leave your hood except for work and maybe an errand or two, and your context becomes a bubble. On the flip side, poor people being clustered together typically means limited access to quality education, quality health resources, quality food, etc. So when the groupings are more drastic, i.e. Memphis/San Antonio, that can be bad for the future of a city. When the groupings are a bit more in line, i.e. Orlando/Portland, there might be a bit more equity in how the city broadly operates.
All of this is a bit of a moving target demographically, sociologically, politically, economically and otherwise, but it’s interesting to consider, for sure.