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Boston Ranks First for Income Inequality

Boston tops the list of cities with the highest income inequality in the nation, says the Brookings Institute. (Henry Han/Wikimedia Commons)
Boston tops the list of cities with the highest income inequality in the nation, says the Brookings Institute. (Henry Han/Wikimedia Commons)
January 25, 2016

BOSTON - The city of Boston ranks first in the nation for income inequality, according to a new study. The research from the Brookings Institute finds income equality in the U.S. is higher today than before the Great Recession and it continues to rise.

The top three cities on the list are Boston, Atlanta and New Orleans. Natalie Holmes, senior research assistant with the Brookings Institute, says the gap between rich and poor is rising in most cities because the lowest-wage workers are making less money but in Boston, she says, it's those at the very top who are the driving force.

"Boston was a little bit unusual, in that it was one of the six places where there was a measurable, a statistically significant, increase in the top income-earners," says Holmes.

The study finds Boston's top earners make more than $260,000 a year, while the bottom 20 percent earn less than 15,000. The research says the city's large student population explains part of the reason the gap is so wide, but found those at the top make 17 times more than those at the bottom.

Holmes stresses that incomes vary based on each metropolitan area and city measured, so the impact of the income gaps will also vary by place. But she says in most cases, the gaps don't bode well for residents at all income levels.

"Higher inequality might narrow the tax base from which municipalities can raise revenue to provide services," says Holmes. "Combined with economic segregation, we worry that inequality might diminish the ability of schools to maintain mixed-income populations that we're pretty sure produce better outcomes for low-income students."

The report says income inequality has the effects of raising the prices of goods for poorer families. It can make housing less affordable for lower-income households, and diminish the quality of education for students in these areas.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA