Middle-income neighborhoods are a dying breed in the nation’s metropolitan areas, according to a report by The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, and the share of middle-income residents is declining even in suburban areas.
The report, “Where Did They Go? The Decline of Middle-Income Neighborhoods in Metropolitan America,” is based on a study of U.S. Census data for families and neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas and data for the cities and suburbs in 12 selected metro areas. The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit research and public policy organization.
The share of middle-income neighborhoods in the largest metropolitan areas dropped from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 1940, and the share of middle-income inner-city neighborhoods in the 12 selected metro areas dropped from 45 percent in 1970 to 23 percent in 2000, according to the report.
Research also shows an increasing segregation of neighborhoods along income lines and an increasing divide between very low-income families and very high-income families living in metro areas as the share of middle-income families drops.
There is a consistent trend among the metro areas studied in the “shrinking proportion of families with middle incomes and an even faster decline in neighborhoods with middle-income character,” the report concludes. The share of metro-area families earning middle incomes dropped from 28 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2000.
“Polarization associated with the decline of middle-class neighborhoods is likely to create greater disparities across jurisdictional boundaries that could ultimately create greater political conflict and competition for scarce resources,” the report states. Those middle-income families that remain tend to reside in communities that have either disproportionate numbers of low-income residents or high-income residents rather than a blend of all income groups, the report found.
Within the study’s 12 selected metro areas, 44 percent of suburban neighborhoods had a middle-income profile in 2000, down from 64 percent in 1970.
The 12 selected areas are: Atlanta; Baltimore; Chicago; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles-Long Beach; Louisville, Ky.; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia; San Antonio, Texas; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.
“Suburban middle-income neighborhoods were replaced in roughly equal measure by low-income and very high-income neighborhoods,” the report states. In each of these 12 large metro areas, the share of middle-income neighborhoods shrank faster than the share of middle-income families from 1970 to 2000.
The Los Angeles metro area saw an 18 percent rise in the share of very high-income neighborhoods from 1970 to 2000 — the highest among the selected 12 areas — while the share of moderate-income neighborhoods and high-moderate-income families each dropped 13.8 percent during that period. The Atlanta metro area experienced a 21.3 percent decline in the share of high-moderate-income neighborhoods from 1970 to 2000 while its share of low-income neighborhoods gained 17.4 percent — the largest increase among the 12 selected areas.
San Antonio was the lone metro area among the 12 selected areas to see a decline in its share of low-income neighborhoods and a decline in its share of very-low-income families from 1970 to 2000.
The share of very low-income families in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas steadily grew from 17.2 percent in 1970 to 20.6 percent in 2000, while the share of low-income residents dropped from 18.5 percent to 17.5 percent in 1980 and has since increased slightly to 17.8 percent in 2000.
The share of moderate-income families in the 100 largest metro areas fell from 14.8 percent in 1970 to 11.4 percent in 2000, while the share of high-moderate income families dropped from 13.2 percent in 1970 to 10.1 percent in 2000. The share of high-income families grew from 12.6 percent in 1970 to 14 percent in 1980, and has since declined to 12.1 percent in 2000. The share of very high-income families living in metro areas, though, grew from 23.6 percent in 1970 to 28.1 percent in 2000.
Among neighborhood types, the share of very-low-income neighborhoods grew from 3.5 percent in 1970 to 8.2 percent in 2000 while the share of low-income neighborhoods grew from 20.8 percent to 24 percent, the share of moderate-income neighborhoods fell from 31.7 percent to 22.5 percent, the share of high-moderate income neighborhoods dropped from 26.6 percent to 18.4 percent, the share of high-income neighborhoods grew from 12.6 percent to 15.1 percent, and the share of very high-income neighborhoods jumped from 4.9 percent to 11.8 percent from 1970 to 2000.
Among the 100 largest metro areas studied, the Scranton, Pa., metro area (which also includes Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton areas) had the highest share of middle-income neighborhoods in 2000, at 74.2 percent, followed by Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., at 64.7 percent; Grand Rapids-Muskegon-Holland, Mich., at 59.4 percent; Tacoma, Wash., at 58.1 percent; and Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle, Pa., at 57.2 percent.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach metro area had the lowest share of middle-income neighborhoods in 2000, at 28.3 percent, followed by New York, N.Y., at 29.6 percent; Memphis, Tenn., at 29.7 percent; Houston, Texas, at 30 percent; and Newark, N.J., at 30.4 percent.
“In 1970, more than half of both lower-income and higher-income families lived in a neighborhood that could be described as middle-income … and over two-thirds of middle-income families lived in these locations,” the report states. “By 2000, however, just 37 percent of lower-income families and 48 percent of middle-income families inhabited middle-income neighborhoods.”
The data shows that lower-income families “seem to enjoy greater access to middle-income neighborhoods in suburbs than in cities,” according to the report.
Fewer new developments designed for middle-income families, the movement of lower-income families into formerly middle-income neighborhoods, increasing gentrification that is converting formerly middle-income areas to higher-income areas, and the flight of high-income families from formerly middle-income neighborhoods are possible contributors to the shrinking middle-class, the report suggests.