Income Inequality in American Cities

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graphic from the Brookings InstitutionThe Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program—the same team that has raised awareness about the suburbanization of poverty—released another interesting research paper today exploring income inequality in the top 50 most populous U.S. cities. The paper examines the ratio between the income level of the 20th percentile (i.e. those who earn more than 20% of households) and the 95th percentile (those who earn more than 95% of households).

The paper’s author, Alan Berube, has traveled to this area multiple times and knows it well. Here is what he has to say about Seattle:

“Seattle, where the inequality debate has fueled calls for a $15/hour minimum wage, turns out to have a relatively low inequality ratio (31st out of 50 cities). This fact is largely attributable to the relatively high incomes earned by its 20th-percentile households—$26,000, third-highest among the 50 cities. Like San Francisco, Seattle may have less poverty not only because people there earn more, but also because the region’s poor increasingly live in suburbia. For its part, the Emerald City experienced no measurable increase in inequality from 2007 to 2012, indicating that either its low-income households held their own during the recession, or that there were just fewer places for them to live in the city by 2012. If the latter is true, it seems as though residents of south King County may need a minimum wage boost at least as much as their central-city neighbors.”