On June 22, 2006 the Washington Post ran an excellent story (on page A3) about a report from the Brookings Institution about the decline of middle-income neighborhoods from 1970 to 2000. The report from Brookings discovered that:
“as a share of all urban and suburban neighborhoods, middle-income neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000…. Middle-income neighborhoods — where families earn 80 to 120 percent of the local median income — have plunged by more than 20 percent as a share of all neighborhoods in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. They are down 10 percent in the Washington area.”
So what’s so wrong with this picture, Nick? Well for one thing, growing neighborhood income inequality means that …”if you are not living in one of the well-off areas, you are not going to have access to the same amenities — good schools and safe environment — that you could find 30 years ago.” Maybe some folks reading this aren’t troubled by declining access to good schools and a safe environment for a growing percent of folks. Those folks should feel free to check out www.clubforgrowth.com
But Nick, maybe the percent of middle income neighborhoods is the reuslt of greater growth of higher income neighborhoods? Not according to these charts.
It turns out that while middle-income neighborhoods declined from 58% to 41% of nieghborhoods in 100 largest metro areas hte percent of both low and high income neighborhoods increased. But while high income neighborhoods did increase from 18% to 27% of the total, low income neighborhoods increased from 24% to 32%! of the total. Indeed, of the 12 cities featured in the second graph, only 5 (Oakland, Calif., Atlanta, Louisville, Chicago, and Los Angeles) see a greater growth in high income neighborhoods that in low income neighborhoods. All places saw some decline in middle income neighborhoods and an increase in low income neighborhoods. So growing income inequality is threatening the middle class, not just the poor.
The policies that can turn this around are numerous: a more progressive tax system, an end to corporate welfare, increased resources (and not just money) for roads, mass transit, schools, and other public places, national health insurance, less restrictive zoning laws, and a minimum wage that is a living wage (i.e. a lot higher than $5.15). But remember: growing neighborhood inequality is NOT a seperate phenomena on it’s own. It is one of many outcomes of growing national income inequality.
But Nick, these figures only go through 2000, what about the last 6 years? True these figures only go through 2000, but do you really think that the gap between rich and poor (and for that matter rich and middle class) has declined during the George W. Bush years?