Distressed Communities Index

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice
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Little Rock   Now this is interesting. A relatively new techy, DC-based research group has crunched a lot of US Census Bureau data and developed a new tool for looking at the state of inequality nationally called the Distressed Communities Index. The Economic Innovation Group looks at seven factors in figuring out the index. The factors include high school education, vacant house rates, working adults, people below the poverty line, median income, as well as change in employment and business openings. The upshot is that the recovery between 2010 and 2013 is very uneven, as we are seeing in the way that the economy is driving politics these days. While the topline on the recovery may be good news from the White House reports, imperiled zip codes and census tracts are going down even while others go up. The Index lets you look at states, counties, and cities as well, and it’s worrisome once you get in the weeds.

For example:

· More people in the South live in distressed communities than not and it adds up to more than 50 million people. Texas for example has both extremes, but the majority of counties are distressed.
· The top ten distressed cities are Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Toledo, San Bernardino, Stockton, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Memphis, and Cincinnati.
· In distressed communities the average age of a house is over 30 years and more than half of the adults don’t have jobs and a quarter lack high school education.

Jefferson County, Arkansas where Pine Bluff is located is a good example of a distressed community. It ranks close to the top 10% on the distressed index. More than 50% of adults are unemployed and jobs have fallen by 10% in recent years. Orleans Parish in Louisiana with the same boundaries as New Orleans is 60.2% distressed but beats Pine Bluff because jobs have increased by 10% and new businesses have also opened.

When it comes to states, Arkansas is the 7th most distressed, while Alabama is the 2nd most, Mississippi is the most distressed, Louisiana is the 12th most distressed, and Texas is the 16th.

Looking at cities, Baton Rouge is the 18th most distressed, Miami is the 19th, Dallas is the 26th, Phoenix is the 27th, New Orleans is the 29th, Atlanta is the 43rd, Houston is the 53rd, New York City is the 58th, and so on among the largest 100 cities in the country. Edge, suburban cities in the top 100 are the least distressed. Cities like Plano, Texas in the Dallas metroplex or Gilbert, Arizona. Austin, Seattle and San Francisco are among the least distressed.

You get the picture. This is an interesting tool in pulling the covers on inequality. Does the tool help us build something better? Well, no, it just punctures more of the pretty pictures that have been disguising the pain of people throughout the country, and for that we have to say thanks.

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