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Report Shines New Light On Boston’s Inequality

Brookings Institution map of the ratio of 95th percentile income to 20th percentile income, in the nation's 50 largest cities (Courtesy Brookings)

Brookings Institution map of the ratio of 95th percentile income to 20th percentile income, in the nation’s 50 largest cities (Courtesy Brookings)

BOSTON — Boston is one of four U.S. cities where the income of the richest households is at least 15 times the earnings of the poorest 20 percent, a Brookings Institution report finds.

The study shines new light on inequality in Boston, which, as we’ve reported, has the least equitable income distribution in the country, among cities of population over 500,000.

In Boston in 2012, the richest 5 percent of households earned more than $220,000, while the poorest 20 percent of households earned less than $15,000, Brookings said in the new report.

Thus the city’s so-called 95/20 ratio was 15.3, fourth-highest behind other big cities Atlanta (18.8), San Francisco (16.6) and Miami (15.7).

Overall, the study from the Washington think tank found that inequality in big cities exceeds the national average, as big-city rich households are richer than their counterparts elsewhere, and big-city poor households are poorer than their counterparts elsewhere.

As Brookings wrote: “Large populations, diverse housing types, and generally progressive politics mean that most cities will always have higher shares of the rich and poor than smaller places.”

But, the authors added, “the contemporary causes and consequences of inequality in cities vary greatly across the national map. Mayors who want to promote both economic diversity and economic mobility in their cities should take note.”

The report comes as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has made shrinking the income gap in the city a central focus of his weeks-old administration.

“We cannot tolerate a city divided by privilege and poverty,” he said in his inaugural address.

But among fellow cities with the biggest income gaps, Boston is a notable exception in one area: worsening inequality since before the Great Recession.

While San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami experienced the nation’s largest increases, respectively, in inequality from 2007 to 2012, Boston did not register a statistically significant increase (just 0.4 percent) in its inequality ratio over those five years.

That’s because Boston’s poorest 20 percent of households had an average income loss of $1,359 from 2007 to 2012, while the income of the city’s richest 5 percent declined $14,912.

H/T to The New York Times for its article: “Study Finds Greater Income Inequality in Nation’s Thriving Cities”

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