Debates in the U.S. over income inequality have taken center stage in recent years, but its existence in our cities is of long standing. Major metro areas have been magnets for both the rich and the poor since ancient times; in fact they owe a great deal of their dynamism to their economic and social diversity. But growing economic segregation—the increasing tendency of affluent people to live in neighborhoods where almost everyone else is affluent, and poor people to live in neighborhoods where almost everyone else is poor—may be a more insidious problem. The emergence of a new urban geography of concentrated wealth and advantage juxtaposed to endemic poverty and concentrated disadvantage poses troubling implications for the economic mobility of people and the economic health of cities.
Just as lower-skill, higher-pay manufacturing jobs have dropped out of the labor market, and work in America has bifurcated into high-skill, high-paying professional and knowledge occupations and much lower-paying, low-skill service jobs in fields like food service and retail trade, America’s once middle-class neighborhoods have also begun to disappear.
Working closely with Charlotta Mellander and my Martin Prosperity Institute team, I have charted the level and extent of segregation by income, of the rich and the poor, of the highly educated, and by socioeconomic class across tracts in all of America’s more than 350 metros (To track income segregation, I will today use data modeled after the Pew Research Center’s methodology. Future posts will use a method based on the landmark work of Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton.) I will be sharing additional findings over the next several weeks.