Urban Income Inequality

photo by sonyblockbuster

The union-affiliated Economic Policy Institute has released a report, Income Inequality in the U.S. by State, Metropolitan Area, and County. The report finds that

The rise in inequality in the United States, which began in the late 1970s, continues in the post–Great Recession era. This rising inequality is not just a story of those in the financial sector in the greater New York City metropolitan area reaping outsized rewards from speculation in financial markets. It affects every state, and extends to the nation’s metro areas and counties, many of which are more unequal than the country as a whole. In fact, the unequal income growth since the late 1970s has pushed the top 1 percent’s share of all income above 24 percent (the 1928 national peak share) in five states, 22 metro areas, and 75 counties. It is a problem when CEOs and financial-sector executives at the commanding heights of the private economy appropriate more than their fair share of the nation’s expanding economic pie. We can fix the problem with policies that return the economy to full employment and return bargaining power to U.S. workers.

The specific findings are very interesting. They include,

  • Overall in the U.S. the top 1 percent took home 20.1 percent of all income in 2013. (4)
  • To be in the top 1 percent nationally, a family needs an income of $389,436. Twelve states, 109 metro areas, and 339 counties have thresholds above that level. (2)
  • Between 2009 and 2013, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth in the United States. Over this period, the average income of the top 1 percent grew 17.4 percent, about 25 times as much as the average income of the bottom 99 percent, which grew 0.7 percent. (3)
  • Between 1979 and 2013, the top 1 percent’s share of income doubled nationally, increasing from 10 percent to 20.1 percent. (4)
  • The share of income held by the top 1 percent declined in every state but one between 1928 and 1979. (4)
  • From 1979 to 2007 the share of income held by the top 1 percent increased in every state and the District of Columbia. (4)
  • Nine states had gaps wider than the national gap. In the most unequal states—New York, Connecticut, and Wyoming—the top 1 percent earned average incomes more than 40 times those of the bottom 99 percent. (2)
  • For states the highest thresholds are in Connecticut ($659,979), the District of Columbia ($554,719), New Jersey ($547,737), Massachusetts ($539,055), and New York ($517,557). Thresholds above $1 million can be found in four metro areas (Jackson, Wyoming-Idaho; Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut; Summit Park, Utah; and Williston, North Dakota) and 12 counties. (3)

The income threshold of the top 1% for individual counties is also interesting.  For example, New York County (Manhattan) comes in second, at $1,424,582 (following Teton, WY at $2,216,883) and San Francisco County comes in 24th at $894,792. (18, Table 6)

Income inequality is a fact of life for big cities and affects so many aspects of American life — housing, healthcare, education, to name a few important ones. The Economic Policy Institute focuses on union-movement responses to income inequality, but urbanists could also consider how to respond systematically to income inequality in the design of urban systems like those for healthcare, transportation and education. If the federal government is not ready to do anything about income inequality itself, states and local governments can make some progress dealing with its consequences. That is a far better route than acting as if income inequality is just some kind unexpected aspect of modern urban life and then bemoaning its visible manifestations, such as homelessness.



FHA Whitewash, Redux

Richard Brooks and Carol Rose have recently published their book Saving the Neighborhood:  Racially Restrictive Covenants, Law, and Social Norms.  This well-written book brings to mind my recent post on the FHA Whitewash which reviewed a recent paper by HUD-affiliated researchers.  The paper minimized the role that the FHA played in furthering housing discrimination.  I mentioned that Kenneth Jackson’s classic book, Crabgrass Frontier, documented this sorry chapter of the FHA’s history.  Saving The Neighborhood covers some of the same ground, but from a legal and legal history perspective.  By doing so, it adds depth and texture to the historic record.

The book makes clear just how much of a role the FHA played.  The FHA’s

Underwriting Manual reflected private developers’ and brokers’ views of the kinds of features that made housing values stable and secure. Those features clearly included racial segregation.  In a section on “Protection from Adverse influences,” the Manual stated bluntly that “[a] change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and a reduction in values” (par. 233). Thus property evaluators were to investigate the surrounding areas for the presence of “incompatible racial and social groups” and to assess whether the location might be “invaded” (par. 233). The Manual specifically noted that deed restrictions on “racial occupancy” could create a “favorable condition” (par. 228). in the section on subdivisions that were still in the development stage, the Manual recommended deed restrictions that included, among other matters, “. . . (g) Prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended” (par. 284(3)). (109)

The authors argue that these preferences gave developers, even those who did not favor segregation, an incentive to employ racially restrictive covenants in their projects. (110)

The FHA’s record of racial discrimination during the first few decades of its existence is clear, for all to see.