Exploring the Income Growth Disparities Across US Cities

Examining and Understanding the Widening Income Gaps Between America’s Cities.

Income Growth Disparities – Income levels and growth rates vary substantially between cities across the United States. Understanding these disparities provides insights into economic prosperity, standards of living, and urban policy priorities. This guide explores income trends across major US cities using recent data and analysis.

Key Takeaways

  • Income growth has diverged substantially between US cities over the past decade.
  • Southern and Western cities like San Bernardino and Huntsville saw rapid income gains.
  • Expensive coastal cities including NYC and San Francisco experienced income declines.
  • Industry mix, workforce, costs, policy, and demographics influence income trajectories.
  • Persistent income gaps negatively impact inequality, growth, and geographic opportunity imbalances.
  • Individuals should consider city income trends when making job, education, and financial decisions.
  • Policymakers need to address the root causes of income disparities through strategic investments and policy reforms.


Income Growth Disparities – A city’s median household income reflects its economic vitality, workforce opportunities, and resident demographics. Income growth enables greater prosperity while declining incomes hurt living standards.

Unfortunately, prosperity is not shared equally. A recent study by the Pew Research Center highlights widening income gaps, with some cities enjoying rapid income growth while others experience declines.

These income growth disparities have implications for urban policy, financial planning, inequality, and local economic development. By examining the income trends in detail, we can gain useful insights.

Key Income Growth Findings

The study revealed diverging income trajectories across metro areas:

  • San Bernardino, CA had the highest income growth at 31.35% from 2010 to 2020.
  • Other top gainers were Huntsville, AL (30.21%) and Moreno Valley, CA (21.99%).
  • New York, NY suffered the greatest income decrease at -2.03%.
  • Other significant declines occurred in Baton Rouge, LA (-10%) and Laredo, TX (-8.75%).
  • The majority of highest-growth cities are mid-sized metro areas in the South and West.
  • Declining incomes predominantly occurred in expensive coastal cities.

Let’s explore the top and bottom metro areas in more detail.

Cities with the Greatest Income Growth

Several mid-sized southern and western cities saw sizable income jumps:

1. San Bernardino, CA

  • Median household income rose an incredible 31.35% from 2010 to 2020.
  • By 2020, 30.2% of households were earning $100,000 or higher.
  • Growth attributed to the surging warehousing/logistics industry and affordable housing attracting new residents.

2. Huntsville, AL

  • Median income increased by 30.21% thanks to rapid tech sector expansion.
  • 38.3% of households now earn $100,000+.
  • The low cost of living and skilled workforce made Huntsville an attractive tech hub.

3. Moreno Valley, CA

  • Income grew 21.99% as the expanding logistics industry created opportunities.
  • 25.8% of households earn over $100,000.
  • Population growth and spillover from LA's high costs added to the appeal.

4. Winston-Salem, NC

  • Median income rose 21.65% as manufacturing, education, and healthcare drove the economy.
  • 31.8% of households now exceed $100,000 in earnings.
  • Low living costs coupled with job growth attracted new residents.

5. Toledo, OH

  • Median income increased by 20.27% thanks to a resurgent manufacturing sector.
  • 29.1% of households earn $100,000+.
  • The revitalization of auto manufacturing boosted wages.

Cities with the Worst Income Losses

Meanwhile, struggling growth plagued some major coastal cities:

1. New York, NY

  • NYC saw median income drop 2.03% amid high living costs and economic shifts.
  • 28.6% of households earn $100,000+, unchanged from 2010.
  • Job and population losses along with remote work trends contributed to decreasing wages.

2. San Francisco, CA

  • Median income fell 1.64% as the exodus of residents and tech slowdown impacted wages.
  • Still boasts high incomes, with 43.1% of households earning $100,000+.
  • Housing costs drove away middle- and lower-income residents.

3. Baton Rouge, LA

  • Hit hard by crashing oil prices, median income fell 10% from 2010-2020.
  • Just 19.8% of households earn $100,000+, one of the lowest shares.
  • Reliance on the struggling energy sector left the city vulnerable.

4. Laredo, TX

  • An 8.75% income drop occurred as job losses mounted in the trade, trucking, and energy sectors.
  • Only 11.3% of households earn $100K+, among the lowest nationally.
  • International trade declined and local impacts of the oil/gas slump inflicted economic pain.

5. Orlando, FL

  • Hospitality struggles during COVID led median income to fall 7.91% from 2019 to 2020 alone.
  • Only 22.2% of households earn $100,000+ highlighting reliance on lower-paying service jobs.

Other Notable Cities

Beyond the top and bottom performers, other cities saw substantial income shifts:

  • Riverside, CA +19.64%
  • Raleigh, NC +18.34%
  • Omaha, NE +17.12%
  • Pittsburgh, PA +14.46%
  • Tampa, FL -6.78%
  • Miami, FL -6.14%
  • Virginia Beach, VA -5.62%

These represent a sample of metro areas across the income growth spectrum. The full study contains data on over 100 cities.

Factors Influencing Local Income Trends

Why do incomes rise quickly in some cities but decline in others? Key factors include:

  • Industry mix - Areas with growing sectors like tech fare better than those relying on declining industries.
  • Workforce skills - Cities with an educated, in-demand workforce see higher wages.
  • Population changes - Income rises with growing populations and falls if residents leave.
  • Cost of living - Expensive areas make it harder for many to afford living there.
  • Policy - Local regulations, zoning, minimum wage, and taxes impact incomes.
  • Infrastructure - Transport links and mobility also determine access to opportunities.

Understanding the forces shaping income in individual metro areas provides insights for tailoring effective local strategies.

FAQs on City Income Disparities

Q1: Why is studying income gaps between cities useful?

A: It helps identify growing versus struggling areas and the underlying factors, allowing targeted responses by policymakers.

Q2: How was the urban income data compiled?

A: The study analyzed median household income for the largest 100 metro areas from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Q3: What drove steep income growth in San Bernardino, CA?

A: Expansion of warehousing/logistics jobs coupled with relatively affordable housing that attracted new residents.

Q4: Why are expensive coastal cities like SF and NYC seeing income declines?

A: High costs of living likely drove out many middle- and lower-income residents, contributing to decreasing median wages.

Q5: What factors commonly influence positive income trajectories in cities?

A: Growing industries, young educated workforce, population expansion, pro-business policies, affordable living costs relative to wages.

Q6: How should individuals plan finances depending on their city's income trajectory?

A: Review current career and skill demand plus future prospects when making education, job, and savings decisions. Consider relocating if your current city offers poor income outlooks in your field.

Q7: What steps can policymakers take to address lagging incomes?

A: Invest in education, job training, and infrastructure. Relax restrictive policies. Provide incentives like tax breaks. Fund economic development programs.

Q8: Is there a link between city size and income growth?

A: Not necessarily - some smaller metro areas saw large income gains while bigger coastal cities declined. Industry mix seems a larger factor.

Q9: How can declining cities work towards recovery?

A: Identify and invest in competitive strengths. Retrain workers with in-demand skills. Ease housing costs. Improve infrastructure and business climate. Market the city.

Q10: What are the long-term risks of persistent income growth disparities between cities?

A: Slowing national growth, worsening inequality, geographic imbalances in living standards and opportunity, political friction.


This examination of income growth disparities highlights America's increasing economic divergence. Some cities are thriving thanks to knowledge industries and affordability, while others struggle with shrinking opportunities.

Individuals should closely consider income trends when making career and financial decisions. For policymakers, addressing glaring urban income disparities and their root causes is crucial for equitable growth.

While incomes may feel abstract, they profoundly impact lives. Understanding the income gaps that exist - and why they matter - is vital for making cities work for everyone.

This comprehensive guide examined the issue of income growth gaps between cities using data-driven analysis and policy context. By using the comment section below, please let us know if you need any clarification or have suggestions to improve the content on Income growth disparities.

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