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. Because of the city’s substantial income, health, and other socioeconomic disparities between black and white residents, 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, less than half the median income of $50,696 for white households in the metro area. Income is one of the most important 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 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 an income of just $31,404 a year, which is $7,000 less than the nationwide median for black households and less than half the median income of $66,419 among white households in the metro area.

New Jersey has the worst incarceration disparity of any U.S. state. There are just 85 white people incarcerated per 100,000 white state residents, compared to over 1,000 incarcerated black residents per 100,000 black New Jersey residents, nearly 12 times the white state incarceration rate.

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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 70 miles west of Detroit. The typical African American household in Jackson has an income of 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 were unemployed as of 2017, 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 poverty, employment, and other socioeconomic measures between white and black residents are far greater than the disparities across the nation as a whole.

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 black poverty rate of 25.2% is over twice 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 manufacturing sector declined since the middle of the 20th century. This has created economic challenges and may have further exacerbated racial disparities in the area. In 2017, 15.1% of black members of the labor force in Syracuse were 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 has likely contributed 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.