The U.S. Census Bureau has released its annual American Community Survey, and for metro areas, the 2013 data show mostly subtle, statistically insignificant shifts in income growth and closing the wealth gap. Depending on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full, you’ll either be relieved that there wasn’t a marked downturn, or disappointed that the recovery has not proven to be more robust.
The measure that the Census Bureau uses to assess urban regions is the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As the graphic below shows, the MSAs that showed reasonable gains in median income were Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, New York-Newark-Jersey City, and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward. (The median income for the country in 2013 was $51,939, up from $51,759 in 2012.) The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia MSA had the largest decrease in median household income, down 3.8 percent. Last month, the organization Sustain Charlotte released a report card that identified jobs and income trends and made recommendations for potential areas for recovery and growth.
As the New York Times predicted, the poverty rate barely budged and is steady at 15.8 percent of the population (48.8 million people). This indicates that any gains made overall during the recovery haven’t been able to markedly lift the households of low-wage workers or the unemployed. The Census counts both the number of people below the poverty line in a single MSA, as well as the percentage this represents against the area’s total population. Both the poverty rate and the number of people showed a noticeable decrease in St. Louis. Both metrics increased in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue. Here’s how eight of the most populous U.S. metro areas compare.
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 and 2013 American Community Survey)
The American Community Survey brief on poverty in 2013 also includes its own graphic that shows the income-to-poverty ratio for MSAs. An income-to-poverty ratio under 50 percent means that a family or individual has an income that is less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2013 American Community Survey)
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Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.