The gap between the wealthy and the poor is most extreme in several of the United States’ most prosperous and largest cities.
The economic divides in Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are significantly greater than in the rest of the country, according to a study released Thursday by the Brookings Institution, the Washington-based think tank. It suggests that many sources of both economic growth and income inequality have co-existed near each other for 35 years.
The findings come at a delicate moment for the country, still slogging through a weak recovery from the Great Recession. Much of the nation’s job growth has been concentrated in lower-wage careers. Few Americans have enjoyed pay raises. President Obama is pushing for a higher minimum wage. Protesters in San Francisco have tried to block a private bus that shuttles Google employees from gentrifying neighborhoods to their offices in Silicon Valley.
Many wealthy Americans, from venture capitalist Tom Perkins to real-estate billionaire Sam Zell, argue that the nation has tipped toward class warfare.
Incomes for the top 5 percent of earners in Atlanta averaged $279,827 in 2012. That’s almost 19 times more than what the bottom 20% of that city’s population earned. This ratio is more than double the nationwide average for this measure of income inequality. The top 5 percent of earners across the country have incomes 9.1 times greater than the bottom quintile.
Of the nation’s 50 biggest cities, just 18 experienced greater income inequality since the recession. That was due primarily to falling incomes for the poorest residents. This occurred in places that suffered from the burst of the housing bubble — such as Tucson, Ariz., and Albuquerque — and Midwestern cities still reeling from the collapse of manufacturing such as Cleveland, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.
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