Growing economic inequality captures many headlines, but often overlooked is another form of inequality: certain cities or regions are sprinting ahead while others are lagging behind. As the Distressed Communities Index shows, it took 10 years for some struggling ZIP codes to regain their losses from the Great Recession. Prosperous places recovered in half that time.
Growth became uneven. Some cities and regions surged while others fell. A few were winners, many more were losers. Neighborhoods within cities and suburbs suffered similar fates. Today, more than 14 million Americans live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, often next door to ones that are thriving. These disparities are one reason why life expectancy can be 15 years shorter between neighborhoods just a few freeway exits apart.
The reasons for their distress can range from the ripple effects of globalization and technological change to the legacies of segregation. Digitalization, for instance, has changed the job market, creating new opportunities for some workers and metro areas, but leaving others behind. Increasingly, jobs that require more digital skills are commanding higher wages and faster wage growth. But, not everyone or every place can retool fast enough. While some cities are adding high-paying jobs, others struggle with the legacies of past industrial booms. In addition, incomes have simultaneously become more volatile and unpredictable for those on the bottom rungs of the ladder.