Special Report

The Worst Cities for Black Americans

Source: Jacob Boomsma / Getty Images

5. Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA
> Black population: 12,347 (7.3% of total)
> Black median income: $28,671 (49.1% of white income)
> Unemployment: 16.0% (Black); 3.4% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 34.2% (Black); 72.4% (white)

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area has the worst racial income disparities of any metro area in Iowa and the fifth worst of any metro area nationwide. Black workers are far more likely to struggle to find a job than their white counterparts, as over the last five years, Black unemployment has been more than four times higher than the white unemployment rate, on average. Such disparity in employment opportunities has pronounced financial consequences. The median income among white households in the area is more than double the median income among Black households.

Across Waterloo-Cedar Falls, and the rest of Iowa, disproportionate incarceration rates further exacerbate economic inequality along racial lines. Black Iowans are about 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than white Iowans.

Source: Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons

4. Danville, IL
> Black population: 10,885 (13.9% of total)
> Black median income: $22,419 (45.2% of white income)
> Unemployment: 19.7% (Black); 5.9% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 29.5% (Black); 75.2% (white)

Danville, Illinois, located near the state’s eastern border with Indiana, has some of the worst racial disparities of any city in the United States. Like many cities on this list, Danville is among the most segregated places in the country — and over the last several decades, it has made little progress toward integration.

Segregation can exacerbate inequality, and in Danville, the typical Black household earns just $22,419 a year — less than half the median income among white households of $49,592. Economic inequality is further evidenced by the poverty rate in Danville, as nearly half of all Black residents live below the poverty line compared to 15.0% of white residents. Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and less than 5% of Black adults in the metro area have a bachelor’s degree, while 16.1% of the white adults do.

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3. Racine, WI
> Black population: 21,257 (10.9% of total)
> Black median income: $26,512 (39.9% of white income)
> Unemployment: 10.7% (Black); 4.2% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 27.2% (Black); 74.2% (white)

Few U.S. metro areas have a worse income gap along racial lines than Racine, Wisconsin. The typical Black household in the area earns just $26,512 a year, about $40,000 less than what the typical white household earns. Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and in Racine, fewer than one in every 10 Black adults have a four-year college degree, compared to more than one in four white area adults.

Racine is one of two Wisconsin metropolitan areas to rank on this list — and socioeconomic disparities along racial lines extend well beyond their borders. Across all of Wisconsin, the incarceration rate among the Black population is 12 times greater than incarceration rate among the white population. The more than 10,000 Black Wisconsin residents in federal and state prisons, as well as their families, face considerable economic hurdles — attributable to both lack of income while serving their sentence and reduced employment opportunities upon release.

Source: Dori / Wikimedia Commons

2. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
> Black population: 258,081 (16.4% of total)
> Black median income: $29,655 (43.1% of white income)
> Unemployment: 12.1% (Black); 3.3% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 27.4% (Black); 68.5% (white)

Over a third of Black residents in the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis metro area live below the poverty line, compared to less than one in every 10 white metro area residents and less one-quarter of the Black population nationwide. Additionally, most Black households in the area earn less than $30,000 a year, about $39,000 less than the median income among white area households and $10,000 less than the median household income among Black households nationwide.

Like other cities on this list, racial disparities that are evident in Milwaukee today have roots in racist housing policies of the previous century. In addition to redlining, which made it difficult for many Black residents to secure mortgage loans, neighborhood-specific housing covenants explicitly forbade the sale or rental of real estate to anyone who was not white. Such policies entrenched inequality along racial lines on multiple fronts, including education, employment opportunities, policing, and access to health care services.

Source: Jeff Wood / Wikimedia Commons

1. St. Cloud, MN
> Black population: 10,370 (5.3% of total)
> Black median income: $23,790 (38.2% of white income)
> Unemployment: 17.4% (Black); 3.7% (white)
> Homeownership rate: 9.3% (Black); 72.4% (white)

St. Cloud, Minnesota, has the worst socioeconomic disparities along racial lines of any U.S. metro area. Homeownership is a practical way to build intergenerational wealth, and in St. Cloud, the Black homeownership rate is just 9.3%, compared to the 72.4% white homeownership rate. Differences in income are also pronounced. The typical Black household earns just $23,790 a year, while most white households earn over $62,000 annually. Also, Black St. Cloud workers are nearly five times more likely to be unemployed and Black residents are five times more likely to live below the poverty line than their white counterparts.

Many of St. Cloud’s Black residents are newly settled immigrants and refugees. Over the last three decades, the city has seen an influx of new residents from East Africa.