Special Report

American Cities That Went From Rich to Poor

Per capita income in the United States has more than doubled in the last 60 years. In 1959, Americans’ average per capita income was about $15,000. As of 2019, the average per capita income in the United States was $35,672. 

Incomes, however, have not risen equally nationwide. In many major metropolitan areas, incomes have increased far less. Many of these cities were relatively wealthy areas in the mid-20th century, but broad economic trends hampered growth and led to stagnant wages over the decades since. 

To determine the American cities that went from rich to poor, 24/7 Wall St. calculated per capita income for all U.S. metropolitan areas and metro area equivalents in both 1959 and in 2019. We ranked cities based on their change in rank relative to all metro areas over that 60 year period. Income figures for 1959 have been adjusted for inflation. 

Many of the metro areas on this list are Rust Belt communities — former manufacturing hubs that have undergone considerable economic decline in recent decades. Beginning in the 1970s, American manufacturers began outsourcing jobs to cheaper labor abroad, and more recently, automation has taken a toll on employment in the manufacturing sector. Since peaking in June, 1979, the number of Americans working in manufacturing has fallen by over 37%.

In other cases, manufacturers left the towns on this list in favor or areas where workers were not protected by collective bargaining agreements. Unionized workers are typically paid more than workers who are not in a union, and falling wages in these cities are likely attributable in part to a reduction in labor union participation. Here is a look at the states with the strongest and weakest unions

Closures of major manufacturing operations that once served as an economic backbone in the metro areas on this list often triggered a long-term, downward economic spiral.

Click here to see the American Cities that went from rich to poor.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.