10 Economic Distress Indicators

YES! Weekly | November 23, 2011
widening wealth divide

A new study on residential segregation of families by income released by Stanford University found that, to quote: “The share of the population in large and moderate-sized metropolitan areas who live in the poorest and most affluent neighborhoods has more than doubled since 1970, while the share of families living in middle-income neighborhoods dropped from 65 percent to 44 percent.”

The isolated rich

Researchers Sean F. Reardon and Kendra Bischoff conclude that “the residential isolation of both poor and affluent families has grown over the last four decades, though affluent families have been generally more residentially isolated than poor families during this period.”


The trends are troubling for the poor, who lack access to resources, but also for the rich, whose awareness of general conditions in society might be diminished, limiting their empathy.

Reardon and Bischoff, again: “The isolation of the rich may lead to lower public and private investment in resources, services and amenities that benefit large shares of the population, such as schools, parks and public services.”

A dubious distinction

The Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area ranks fourth in growth of residential segregation of families by income over the past decade. In 2000, the combined number of people living in poor and affluent neighborhoods in the two cities comprised 15.8 percent of the total population. By 2007, the two segments had nearly doubled to 30.2 percent.

long distance, short time

Changes in Greensboro and High Point almost perfectly mirror changes across the country from 1970 to 2007. That means family income inequality in the two Guilford County cities increased as fast in seven years as it did over four decades across the country as a whole.

Glenwood vs. Aycock

To break it down, median family income in the metro area is $55,260. Family income for an affluent area is $82,890 or more, and $37,024 or less for a poor area. What’s happening in Greensboro and other cities is that more and more neighborhoods are looking like Sunset Hills (Census Tract 105: $84,191) or Glenwood (Census Tract 115: $20,776) and fewer are looking like Aycock (Census Tract 109: $59,226).

Rising poverty

These findings on the increasing residential wealth gap come on the heels of reports that the official poverty rate leapt from 12.3 percent to 20.1 percent in Greensboro from 2000 to 2007, and the number of very low-income households in Guilford County doubled over the same period from 10,000 to 20,000. As to why this has occurred, the conventional wisdom points to the replacement of high-paying manufacturing jobs with low-paying service jobs.

Environmental context

Getting back to the study, the authors argue that “the neighborhood context one lives in can directly affect that person’s social, economic or physical outcomes,” particular with regard to education. A New York Times article on the subject cites a growing gap in both standardized test scores and college completion rates between rich and poor children. The gap in standardized test scores is more dramatic when measured by income than by race.

Education as flashpoint

It should come as no surprise that access to education is a significant tension point in a society with a widening wealth gap. My colleague, Eric Ginsburg, reports that UNCG students interrupted a public meeting on proposed tuition hikes last week. At the other end of the continent, campus police at the University of California at Davis pepper-sprayed students who were seated on the ground point blank, and at Berkeley poet Robert Hass reports that police beat students with clubs.

The 25 percent

My wife and I, though we live in a highincome neighborhood, are part of the 25 percent, as referenced in the aforementioned briefing paper: “In 2009, approximately one in four US households had zero or negative net worth.” To be fair, once our assets — mainly two cars and modest retirement savings — are subtracted from liabilities — mainly student debt — we’re pretty close to zero. We’re not in way over our heads. At least that’s what we like to tell ourselves.

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YES! Weekly began as a concept in December 2004, and was on the streets of Greensboro by Jan. 4, 2005. Our mission was to bring hard and fair news, insightful commentary and comprehensive cultural writing. Since then we have expanded...
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