Atlanta's top incomes grew faster than any other US city between 2012-2013 while its lowest wages remained stagnant, making it the most unequal city in America for the second year in a row, according to a Brookings Institution report on income inequality.
The city's richest 5% make roughly $288,159 per year, while its poorest 20% bring in just under $15,000, resulting in an inequality ratio of 19.2 — slightly higher than San Francisco's ratio of 17.1.
While San Francisco's top incomes are higher overall than Atlanta's (the top 5% make around $425,000 per year), its lowest-income residents still earn about $10,o00 more per year than Atlanta's poorest.
Still, the inequality ratios in both cities increased more than any other US city between 2012-2013 — the household incomes of Atlanta's wealthiest residents are now worth nearly 20 times the incomes off its poorest residents.
The fact that more than half of Atlanta's residents are black may help explain the city's wage gap: Researchers at Brookings found that areas with more black residents are more financially unequal, since black people tend to have lower incomes and more limited upward mobility than whites, the Washington Post reported.
Sprawling cities with higher commute times — two of Atlanta's chief characteristics — also have worse economic mobility, a 2013 Harvard study concluded. Atlanta has lower rates of mobility than any developed country for which data is currently available: an Atlanta resident's odds of climbing the income ladder to reach the top fifth of earners is only 4.5%, the study found, compared with 12.9% in San Jose, California — the highest rate of upward mobility in the country.
As the Brookings report points out, Atlanta's growing gap between rich and poor shows how rising incomes at the top of the distribution do not necessarily lift incomes at the bottom.
Between 1999 and 2008, Atlanta's median-household income dropped by $2,241, according to Brookings, and the city is now suffering from a lack of middle-class jobs. With stagnant incomes and an ever-increasing cost of living, residents are struggling: 25% of Atlanta residents lived below the poverty line in 2013.
Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer — not just in Atlanta, but all around the country. "This latest report just tends to highlight something that we have already heard," Mark Berman writes in the Washington Post. "As the country has slowly climbed out of the smoking economic wreckage left behind by the recession, the richest people have reaped the benefits of recovery while middle-class and poor are being shut out."
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