NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 5, 2006

Are middle-class neighborhoods disappearing from metropolitan areas? That's the conclusion of a new Brookings Institution study.

Researchers analyzed census data for families and neighborhoods in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, and in the cities and suburbs of 12 selected metropolitan areas.  They find that:

  • Middle-income neighborhoods as a proportion of all metropolitan neighborhoods declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000. This dramatic decline far outpaced the corresponding drop in the proportion of metropolitan families earning middle incomes, from 28 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2000.
  • Between 1970 and 2000, lower-income families became more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods. Only 37 percent of lower-income families lived in middle-income neighborhoods in 2000, down from 55 percent in 1970.
  • Only 23 percent of central-city neighborhoods in the 12 large metropolitan areas had a middle-income profile in 2000, down from 45 percent in 1970. A majority of families (52 percent) and neighborhoods (60 percent) in these cities had low or very low incomes relative to their metropolitan area median in 2000.

Although middle-income families have declined considerably as a share of the overall family income distribution, it is noteworthy, say the researchers, that middle-class neighborhoods have disappeared even faster in metropolitan areas, especially in cities.  The resulting disparities among neighborhoods create new challenges for policies to enhance household mobility, improve the delivery of key public services, and promote private-sector investment in struggling locales.

Source: Jason C. Booza, Jackie Cutsinger and George Galster, "Where Did They Go? The Decline of Middle-Income Neighborhoods in Metropolitan America," Brookings Institution, June 2006.


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