Sunday, November 20, 2011

Study: As Income Inequality Grows, Middle Class Areas Shrink

The Congressional Budget Office recently released a study documenting rising income inequality. Among other findings, income grew by 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, tremendously outdistancing other income groups. A new study conducted by Stanford University and released by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University dramatically illustrates this trend in terms of the shrinking of middle class areas. Besides increased population in either low-income or affluent areas, there are further ramifications: as the wealthy retreat into their enclaves, they grow more removed from, and less supportive of, the needs of the general public. In addition, the gap between rich and poor students in terms of school quality, test scores and college completion is growing:

...In 2007, the last year captured by the data, 44 percent of families lived in neighborhoods the study defined as middle-income, down from 65 percent of families in 1970. At the same time, a third of American families lived in areas of either affluence or poverty, up from just 15 percent of families in 1970.

...Sean F. Reardon, an author of the study and a sociologist at Stanford, argued that the shifts had far-reaching implications for the next generation. Children in mostly poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to high-quality schools, child care and preschool, as well as to support networks or educated and economically stable neighbors who might serve as role models.

The isolation of the prosperous, he said, means less interaction with people from other income groups and a greater risk to their support for policies and investments that benefit the broader public — like schools, parks and public transportation systems. About 14 percent of families lived in affluent neighborhoods in 2007, up from 7 percent in 1970, the study found.

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