Study Finds Highest Income Inequality in Cities That Voted For Obama

Barbara Hollingsworth | March 5, 2014 | 3:19pm EST
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Atlanta has the nation's highest level of income inequality, according to a Brookings Institute study. (AP photo)

( – President Obama has characterized income inequality as “the defining challenge of our time,” prodding Republicans to come up with “concrete plans” to reduce it.

However, a new study by the Brookings Institute shows that the highest levels of income inequality in the U.S. are found in Democratic strongholds: the nation’s largest cities.

In his Dec. 4, 2013 speech, “Remarks on Economic Mobility,” Obama praised the New Deal and the War on Poverty for building “the largest middle class the world has ever known,” and lamented “a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain – that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.”

The president challenged congressional Republicans to come up with “concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor.”

But the highest levels of income inequality in the nation are in cities that voted overwhelmingly to reelect Obama in 2012.

“Inequality in big cities exceeds the national average,” according to the study by Brookings senior fellow Alan Berube, entitled “All Cities Are Not Created Equal.”

Berube used data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey to calculate the “95/20 ratio” - dividing the number of households with incomes in the top 95 percent by the number of households in the bottom 20 percent.

Using this methodology, he found that the difference between the highest earners and lowest earners was greater in the nation’s 50 largest cities than in the United States as a whole.

“However, some cities are much more unequal than others,” Berube noted.

“The big cities with the highest 95/20 ratios in 2012 were Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami and Boston” – where a household with an income in the top 95th percentile earned 15 percent more than a household in the bottom 20th percentile.

They were followed by Washington, D.C., New York, Oakland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore, all of which had a 95/20 ratio exceeding 12 – compared to 9.1 nationwide.

And, it turns out, the cities with the highest levels of income equality also happen to be the same places were Obama won some of his biggest victories in 2012.

“In 2012, Obama won 69.4 percent of the vote in cities with more than 500,000 people and 58.4% of the vote in cities with 50,000 to 500,000 people,” UrbanCincy reported. The final popular vote total across the nation was a lot closer: 51 percent for Obama, and 47 percent for Romney.

Atlanta, which Brookings says has the nation’s highest level of income inequality, is the ninth largest metropolitan area in the U.S. The City of Atlanta straddles two counties, and both went for Obama in a big way in 2012. Obama beat Romney in Fulton County 64.1 to 34.4 percent, and pulled in 77.6 percent of the vote in DeKalb County compared to Romney’s 20.9 percent.

The president’s victory was even more lopsided in the City and County of San Francisco, where Obama walked away with a landslide 83.4 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 13.0 percent.

Obama also easily won Florida’s Miami-Dade County, which includes the City of Miami, walking away with 61.5 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 37.8 percent. Same thing in Boston, which Obama handily won 79 to 19 percent, with Romney carrying only two of the city’s 253 precincts – and one of them by just four votes.

The same pattern can be seen in the other six cities Brookings listed as having the highest level of income inequality in the U.S.:

District of Columbia: Obama got 267,070 votes (91 percent) compared to 21,381 votes (7 percent) for Romney;

New York City: 81 percent of Big Apple voters pulled the lever for Obama;

Alameda County, Calif: (which includes Oakland): 78.7 percent for Obama;

Chicago: Obama got 853,102 votes compared to Romney’s 148,181;

Los Angeles County: Obama carried it with 69.7 percent of the vote.

City of Baltimore: 87.4 percent of the votes cast were for Obama, while Romney received only 11.1 percent.

A majority of voters in only four major U.S. cities chose Republican challenger Mitt Romney over Obama, according to The Atlantic, and all four were near the bottom of the income inequality list: Phoenix (38th out of 50 cities in income inequality), Oklahoma City (41st), Fort Worth (44th) and Salt Lake City (not listed in the top 50).

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