Minneapolis-St. Paul. San Francisco. Chicago. Even Madison, Wisconsin. If you are politically liberal and value relatively high levels of income equality, you might live in one of these quintessentially liberal U.S. cities. Yet all four lurk in the bottom half of the 2014 National Urban League’s State of Black America report on income inequality between blacks and whites. Among the many places where black-white income is less skewed are Phoenix, Arizona, Nashville, Tennessee and Columbia, South Carolina.
Nationally, blacks and Hispanics earn less than whites and generally have higher rates of unemployment. But there are significant regional variations. And looking at the Urban League rankings, I couldn’t help noticing how many northern liberal cities fared poorly on the racial equality index.
The inequality is sometimes intense. According to 2005-2009 data based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey, which was provided to me by John Logan, a demographer at Brown University, the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City metropolitan area has an astonishing $56,000 white-black gap in household median income. The white-black gap in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro area is about $40,000.
There is no definitive cause, and explanations vary. Mathew Kahn, an economist at UCLA, e-mailed, “Educated liberals are tolerant people who are willing to live in racially integrated areas even if the minority neighbors are poor. Such liberals are more willing to vote for redistributionist policies and this may attract poor people to collect such transfers.”
That explanation however is incomplete because black migration to the north had little to do with welfare, which didn’t really exist at the time, and a lot to do with the availability of jobs. Those jobs went away eliminating the working middle class and leaving little for working people to do except go into the bureaucracy.
New York City is typical of the gap between the rich and the poor that forms when the middle class is wiped out.