The 18 Most Unequal Cities In America

Homeless inequality povertyREUTERS/Lucy NicholsonA man looks at his phone as he walks out of the courthouse past a man arranging his bags in Los Angeles, California.

Income inequality in America is an endlessly fascinating, albeit depressing, topic.

But American cities have varying levels of inequality.

The Census Bureau makes annual estimates of a standard measure of inequality for US metropolitan areas. The Gini index is a measure, ranging between 0 and 1, of inequality. The Gini index measures how much the distribution of income or wealth in an area differs from a completely equal distribution. A Gini index of 0 indicates that everyone has the same income; an index of 1 means one person has all the money and everyone else has nothing.

We ranked 382 metropolitan areas with populations of at least 65,000 using Census estimates from the 2013 American Community Survey, and found the 18 areas with the highest Gini indices. We also included the income shares of the ends of the distribution: the top 5% and the bottom 20%, also from the Census Bureau.

18: New Orleans-Metairie, LA

Gini Index: 0.5032

Top 5% Income Share: 24.0%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.7%

New Orleans has an unfortunate and long history of inequality. The devastation from Hurricane Katrina amplified and accelerated the region's problems.

17: Brownsville-Harlingen, TX

The administration office and pedestrian South bound lane at the Brownsville & Matamoros Bridge in Brownsville, Texas.

Gini Index: 0.5034

Top 5% Income Share: 24.0%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.7%

According to the Census Bureau's 2013 American Community Survey, the Brownsville metro area, located in the southernmost part of Texas, has much lower educational attainment than many other metro areas: A full 36% of residents have less than a high school diploma, compared to just 13.4% of Americans overall. Similarly, only 17.1% of the Brownsville metro area's population over 25 years old have at least a bachelor's degree, while 29.6% of Americans over 25 do.

16: Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA

UC Santa Barbara Cheerleaders

Gini Index: 0.5038

Top 5% Income Share: 26.0%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 3.0%

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunter, and mining are a much more important industry in the Santa Maria-Santa Barbara metro area than in other places. According to the 2013 American Community Survey, 9.2% of workers in Santa Maria-Santa Barbara are in this sector, while just 2.0% of American workers are overall.

15: Staunton-Waynesboro, VA

Downtown Staunton, VA

Gini Index: 0.5042

Top 5% Income Share: 29.0%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 3.1%

The share of workers in the retail trade sector in the Staunton-Waynesboro metro area was 17.1% in 2013, much higher than the national share of 11.6%.

14: Athens-Clarke County, GA

Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon, Athens, Clarke County, Georgia

Gini Index: 0.5048

Top 5% Income Share: 22.3%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.3%

A number of the metro areas on this list, including Athens, are home to large universities. The University of Georgia is based in Athens, and so the population of the metro area contains a much higher share of college students than most towns: about 19% of the population of the Athens metro area are college students, according to Census Bureau data. Since many college students either aren't working or are only working part time, they tend to have low incomes, skewing measures of inequality like the Gini Index.

13: Port St. Lucie, FL

Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, FL

Gini Index: 0.5061

Top 5% Income Share: 26.2%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.9%

The population of the Port St. Lucie metro area is much older than in other areas. According to the 2013 American Community Survey, 24.3% of residents were 65 or older, while 14.1% of Americans overall fall in this age bracket.

12: Texarkana, TX-AR

Gini Index: 0.5070

Top 5% Income Share: 26.6%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.9%

The poverty rate in 2013 in the Texarkana metro area was 21.4%, much higher than the national rate of 15.8%, according to American Community Survey estimates.

11: Monroe, LA

Bayou Desiard, Monroe, LA

Gini Index: 0.5079

Top 5% Income Share: 22.2%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.2%

In September, the unemployment rate in the Monroe metro area was 6.5%, higher than the national rate of 5.9%.

10: Bloomington, IN

Gini Index: 0.5089

Top 5% Income Share: 23.7%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.0%

One big factor in Bloomington's inequality is the presence of Indiana University. College and graduate students make up over a quarter of Bloomington's population, and many students are either not working or are working part time.

9: Greenville, NC

Downtown Greenville, North Carolina

Gini Index: 0.5100

Top 5% Income Share: 25.6%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.8%

As with Bloomington, college students make up a large part of Greenville's population, owing to the presence of East Carolina University in the city.

7: New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

Gini Index: 0.512

Top 5% Income Share: 25.2%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.5%

The New Yorker made a very cool visualisation of inequality in New York City by showing median income for Census tracts along each subway line. While many Manhattan neighborhoods had median incomes over $US200,000, some neighborhoods in the outer boroughs connected to the wealthy neighborhoods had median incomes in the low $US10,000s.

6: College Station-Bryan, TX

Gini Index: 0.5122

Top 5% Income Share: 23.3%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.2%

As with some of the other entries on this list, College Station, home of Texas A&M, has a large student population, exacerbating income inequality measures in the metro area.

5: Jackson, TN

Railroad mural on S Royal Street, Jackson, Tennessee

Gini Index: 0.5129

Top 5% Income Share: 27.5%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 2.8%

Like Staunton, VA, the Jackson metro area has a higher than average share of its employment in the retail trade industry. 16.4% of workers in Jackson worked in retail trade, compared to 11.6% in the country as a whole.

4: Gainesville, FL

University of Florida Gators fans watch their NCAA men's Midwest Regional semi-final basketball game against the Butler University Bulldogs in St. Louis, Missouri March 23, 2007.

Gini Index: 0.5167

Top 5% Income Share: 24.6%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 1.9%

As with the other college towns on this list, Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, has a disproportionately large student population: about 21% of Gainesville's residents are college or graduate students. Many students are either not working or working part time, skewing measures of inequality.

3: Grants Pass, OR

Gini Index: 0.5176

Top 5% Income Share: 29.6%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 3.2%

Grants Pass is an older than average metro area. 24.2% of residents were 65 or older, while just 14.1% of Americans overall were.

2: Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL

Naples Botanic Garden, Naples, FL

Gini Index: 0.5310

Top 5% Income Share: 29.0%

Bottom 20% Income Share: 3.1%

A big part of employment in the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area is in the arts, entertainment, accommodation, and food services sector. 17.7% of workers were in this industry, while just 9.7% of workers in the overall nation do.

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