Special Report

20 Cities With the Widest Gap Between the Rich and Poor

Thomas C. Frohlich, Michael B. Sauter, Sam Stebbins

5. Jackson, TN
> Gini coefficient:
> Median household income: $38,663
> Poverty rate: 20.9%
> Pct. earning more than $200,000: 3.1%

With one of the lowest median household incomes in the country, over half of all of Jackson’s households earn less than $38,663 annually. Of these households, 6.25% earn less than $10,000, one of the highest such proportions of all metro areas in the United States. While 20% of households in Jackson earn a minimum of $81,290 annually, only 3.1% of households make over $200,000. Jackson’s high Gini coefficient is driven largely by a small share of households with extraordinarily high incomes.

4. Gainesville, FL
> Gini coefficient:
> Median household income: $38,658
> Poverty rate: 26.8%
> Pct. earning more than $200,000: 3.5%

Few American cities have income distribution as skewed as Gainesville, Florida. The wealthiest 20% of households control 54% of the region’s annual income. On the other end of the income spectrum, the poorest 20% of households generate just 1.9% of the region’s total income, the smallest share by the bottom fifth of earners among metros reviewed. This means that the richest fifth of households earns about 29 times more in aggregate than the poorest fifth of Gainesville households. Nearly 15% of the region’s households earn less than $10,000 per year, well above the national share of households in extreme poverty.

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3. Grants Pass, OR
> Gini coefficient:
> Median household income: $38,298
> Poverty rate: 17.0%
> Pct. earning more than $200,000: 2.7%

With only 83,306 residents, Grants Pass has the smallest population of the 20 cities with the highest income inequality. Workforce mobility can help reduce income inequality. But without it, uneven income distribution is difficult to overcome, as finding higher-paying jobs is more difficult in a weak job market, particularly for lower-income residents. At just over 11%, Grants Pass has the highest unemployment rate among the 20 cities with the highest income inequality. In Grants Pass, nearly 30% of all income goes to just 5% of area households, the highest such share in the nation. On the other end of the income spectrum, the lowest earning 20% of households take home just 3.2% of all income generated in the city. While the average cost of living was lower than the national price level, 24.3% of the city’s population still received food stamp benefits, among the highest percentages and perhaps a further illustration of uneven income distribution.

2. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL
> Gini coefficient:
> Median household income: $54,406
> Poverty rate: 12.8%
> Pct. earning more than $200,000: 9.2%

The Naples metropolitan area is home to not only some of the highest concentrations of wealth in the country, but also to the second highest income inequality. Stretching down the southernmost portion of Florida’s Gulf Coast before the Everglades, much of the area is a resort community. The top 5% of earners in the region take home at a minimum of a quarter million dollars annually and control nearly 30% of all income generated in the area. Households with earnings in the top 20% of incomes make over 18 times more than the poorest 20% of households. Unlike most areas with high income inequality, Naples has a relatively low 12.8% poverty rate, 3 percentage points lower than the national poverty rate.

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1. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT
> Gini coefficient:
> Median household income: $82,084
> Poverty rate: 9.6%
> Pct. earning more than $200,000: 18.2%

Income is less evenly distributed in Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk than in any other metro area. Households in the bottom 20% of the income spectrum earned at most $30,493 annually, which was actually one of the highest such figures nationwide. Taken together, those incomes are a fraction of the incomes among the wealthiest households, however, accounting for just 2.3% of income generated in the area. At the same time, the 20% of households with the highest incomes earn nearly 59% of all income generated, the highest such percentage nationwide. Many of these earnings likely come from the 18.2% of area households reporting incomes of at least $200,000, also the highest share in the country. As was the case in a few other cities on this list, relatively high proportions of the area’s workforce was employed by traditionally high-paying industries. The finance, insurance, and real estate, as well as the professional, scientific and management industries accounted for 11.5% and 17% of the workforce respectively — each some of the highest percentages nationwide.