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U.S. cities are increasingly segregated by income, and that's a big problem

One in five citydwellers now live in a very poor or very wealthy neighborhood

The rich and poor in our cities are living more and more separate lives, a worrying trends that’s increasing concentrated poverty and making it harder for many to get ahead. According to research from Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff, income stratification is getting worse in American cities, and as discussed in City Observatory, the growth in very poor and very rich neighborhoods has numerous negative consequences for U.S. cities.

The trend is most worrying for low-income neighborhoods, since concentrated poverty has a number of long-term effects. In urban areas, the number of families who live in poor neighborhoods has jumped from 5.5 percent to 13.1 percent from 1970 to 2012 (poor is defined as having a median income 67 percent or more below the regional average).

But the same thing is happening at the other end of the income spectrum. Those in affluent neighborhoods have doubled during the same time frame, from 4.4 percent to 8.5. That means that more than 1 in 5 city dwellers lives in a very income-segregated community; it’s a trend that you can see play out in big cities such as New York, where gentrification and concentrated development create incredible wealthy neighborhoods and more high-end real estate.

City Observatory crunched the data and created a chart showcasing both the persistence of economic segregation, and which cities are the most divided. It’s a widespread and growing problem, with Dallas, Philadelphia, and New York showing the highest levels of income segregation over the last few years, while only the Raleigh and New Orleans metro area didn’t show an increase. Portland, Orlando, and Minneapolis have the lowest amount of income segregation.

It’s no surprise that growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood can make it tougher to succeed, but recent research has shown the problem may be worse than many think. A widely cited paper by University of Michigan economist Eric Chyn demonstrated the moving away from housing projects and segregated housing can make a sizable difference to a child’s lifetime earning and potential.