Thanks to battles over nightmarish rent-controlled apartments and privatized public transit, cities like New York and San Francisco have reputations as deeply unequal places. Yet a new report revealing the true least equal cities in the U.S. might surprise you.


The Brookings Institute recently analyzed census data not by the biggest or lowest incomes—but by the difference between the two. The formula that's used to do this is called 95/20—basically, the divide between the highest earners and the lowest.

So, who "wins" this grisly competition? Atlanta, surprisingly enough. Keep in mind, that's not necessarily because Atlanta has stratospherically high incomes—it's also because it has deep poverty. The lowest 20 percent of households there earn less than $15,000 a year. That puts it far below #2, San Francisco, where the lowest 20 earn less than $21,313 annually.

Amazingly, the top 5 percenters in SF earn almost $100,000 more every year than Atlanta's top earners.


Miami, Boston, and D.C. follow. New York, which is the focus of so much controversy over inequality, doesn't make an appearance until #6, which is a tribute to support for a livable minimum wage and social services. On the other hand, living in Atlanta is nowhere near as expensive as NYC—so the standard of living for the very poor in NYC isn't necessarily much better, even if the income levels are.

Another telling sign: The lowest incomes in cities are rising. Seems heartening, right? Not really. That rise is related to the fact that, increasingly, the poorest of the poor are being pushed out of cities altogether—and into the suburbs. [Brookings Institute; Co.Exist]


Image: Sean Pavone