Special Report

The Worst Cities for Black Americans

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15. Erie, PA
> Black population: 18,859 (6.8%)
> Black median income: $23,074 (45.5% of white income)
> Unemployment: 13.5% (black); 5.8% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 29.3% (black); 69.6% (white)

Erie, Pennsylvania is a metro area of approximately 278,000 residents on the south shore of Lake Erie. Due to the large disparities between black and white residents in terms of income, health, and other socioeconomic measures in the city, Erie ranks as one of the worst cities for black Americans.

The typical household with an African American head of household in Erie earns $23,074 a year, roughly $15,000 less than the median income for black households nationwide and less than half the median income of $50,696 for white households in the metro area. Income is one of the largest determinants of health, and in Erie, 1,053 in every 100,000 black residents die every year, a far higher mortality rate than the white mortality rate of 792 deaths per 100,000 white residents in Erie and one of the highest black mortality rates of any U.S. metro area.

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14. Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ
> Black population: 38,978 (14.3%)
> Black median income: $31,404 (47.3% of white income)
> Unemployment: 16.2% (black); 9.5% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 39.2% (black); 76.0% (white)

The typical black household in Atlantic City earns just $31,404 a year, 47.3% of the median income of $66,419 among white households in the metro area and nearly $7,000 less than the median for black households nationwide. One of the major determinants of income is education, and in Atlantic City, just 12.9% of African American adults have a bachelor’s degree — less than half the corresponding 29.5% white college attainment rate in the metro area.

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13. Jackson, MI
> Black population: 13,066 (8.2%)
> Black median income: $21,419 (41.3% of white income)
> Unemployment: 18.0% (black); 7.0% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 35.4% (black); 76.0% (white)

Jackson is a relatively small metro area of approximately 159,000 residents located some 70 miles west of Detroit. The typical African American household in Jackson earns just $21,419 a year, 41.3% of the median income of $51,829 among white households and 56.1% of the median income for all black households nationwide. Similarly, while 12.7% of white residents in Jackson live in poverty, 44.0% of black residents do — the 15th largest poverty rate disparity of any metro area.

One factor contributing to the large wealth disparity in Jackson may be the high unemployment disparity. An estimated 18.0% of black members of the labor force in Jackson are unemployed, 11.0 percentage points more than the 7.0% white unemployment rate.

12. Kankakee, IL
> Black population: 16,681 (15.1%)
> Black median income: $29,046 (47.0% of white income)
> Unemployment: 17.3% (black); 5.7% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 33.1% (black); 75.0% (white)

Located approximately 50 miles southwest of Chicago, Kankakee, Illinois, is one of several Rust Belt metro areas where the disparities in education, poverty, and other socioeconomic measures between white and black residents are far greater than the disparities across the nation as a whole. While nationwide, 84.9% of black adults have a high school diploma — 4.4 percentage points less than the 89.3% white high school attainment rate — in Kankakee the 79.1% black high school attainment rate is 11.0 percentage points below the rate of 90.1% among white adults, one of the largest gaps in the country.

High school education correlates strongly with poverty status. In Kankakee, 38.7% of black residents live below the poverty line, more than three times the white poverty rate of 10.4%. Nationwide, the 25.2% black poverty rate is 13.1 percentage points above the 12.0% white poverty rate.

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11. Syracuse, NY
> Black population: 52,499 (8.0%)
> Black median income: $30,362 (50.6% of white income)
> Unemployment: 15.1% (black); 5.7% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 27.6% (black); 72.3% (white)

Syracuse is one of several metro areas where the decline in manufacturing jobs since the middle of the 20th century has created economic challenges and may have exacerbated racial disparities in income and other socioeconomic measures. Today, some 15.1% of black members of the labor force in Syracuse are unemployed, 9.5 percentage points above the 5.7% white unemployment rate — one of the largest unemployment gaps of any U.S. metro area.

The disparity in unemployment likely contributes to the wide black-white income gap in Syracuse. The typical black household in Syracuse earns $30,362 a year, just 50.6% of the white median household income. Similarly, 37.0% of black residents live in poverty, more than three times the 11.9% white poverty rate.