System Working Paper 17-08

Are Central Cities Poor and Non-White?

Jenny Schuetz | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Arturo Gonzalez | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Jeff Larrimore | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Ellen A. Merry | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Barbara J. Robles | Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Published April 10, 2017

For much of the 20th century, America’s central cities were viewed as synonymous with economic and social hardship, often used as proxy for low-income communities of color. Since the 1990s, however, many metropolitan areas have seen a resurgence of interest in central city neighborhoods. Theoretical models of income sorting lead to ambiguous predictions about where households of different income levels will live within metropolitan areas. In this paper, we explore intra-city spatial patterns of income and race for U.S. metropolitan areas, focusing particularly on the locations of low-income and minority neighborhoods. Results indicate that, on average, income and white population shares increase with distance to city centers. However, many centrally located neighborhoods are neither low-income nor majority non-white, while low-income and minority neighborhoods are spatially dispersed across most metropolitan areas.

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