The Worst Cities for Black Americans

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Toledo, Ohio evening
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4. Toledo, OH
> Black population: 14.0%
> Black median income: 44.4% of white income
> White unemployment: 4.9%
> Black unemployment: 21.0%

Black Americans are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as white Americans. In Toledo, the disparity is even greater. While 11.2% of the metro area’s whites live below the poverty line, an estimated 41.8% of the area’s black residents do.

Like many of the cities on this list, Toledo was once one of the nation’s manufacturing strongholds. As long-term decline in manufacturing severely impaired Toledo’s economy, a loss of those jobs may have disproportionately hurt the metropolitan area’s black residents. Manufacturing jobs have historically been a source of decent pay for African Americans, at least in part because the work often did not require a college degree.

Des Moines, Iowa 2
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3. Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA
> Black population: 5.0%
> Black median income: 45.3% of white income
> White unemployment: 4.1%
> Black unemployment: 17.0%

Educational attainment gaps between white and black adults in the Des Moines metro area are not especially stark. What is striking, however, are the gaps in certain social and economic outcomes.

The annual unemployment rate among the black population in Des Moines of 17.0% is more than quadruple the 4.1% white unemployment rate. Similarly alarming is the disparity between white and black incarceration rates. Black Des Moines residents are 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than white residents. In comparison, across the country as a whole, black Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white Americans.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 3
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2. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
> Black population: 16.5%
> Black median income: 45.2% of white income
> White unemployment: 2.9%
> Black unemployment: 13.7%

More than 2,500 of every 100,000 black Milwaukeeans are incarcerated, one of the highest imprisonment rates of any major metropolitan area. In contrast, just 221 of every 100,000 white residents are incarcerated.

Other forms of social and economic inequality, including poverty and unemployment, correlate with higher incarceration rates. This can at least partially be explained by the fact that former inmates often struggle to assimilate back into the community. In Milwaukee, while just 2.9% of the white workforce is unemployed, the black unemployment rate is 13.7%. Also, nearly one in three black Milwaukee residents live in poverty compared to just 8.7% of the area’s white population.

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Peoria, Illinois
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1. Peoria, IL
> Black population: 9.3%
> Black median income: 46.5% of white income
> White unemployment: 5.4%
> Black unemployment: 15.3%

The poverty rate among black residents in Peoria is more than four times the white poverty rate of 8.2%. Multiple social and economic factors contribute to the significant discrepancy.

Black members of the workforce are far more likely to face difficulty in finding a job than their white counterparts. The black unemployment rate in the metro area is 15.3% compared to a 5.4% white unemployment rate. High incarceration rates also play a considerable role in contributing to regional inequality. Black Peoria residents are nearly nine times more likely to be incarcerated than white residents.