The Last Fifty Years: A Brief Look at U.S. Economic Indicators

Ask an American to describe the typical suburb. Responses will include a range of physical attributes from manicured lawns to exclusive subdivisions, yet there is always one prevailing caveat. These peripheral areas are reserved for middle and upper-class families. A combination of personal observations and media-driven stereotypes have placed this image–or a similar variation–in the minds of the American public.

Data had supported this notion for decades. A 1968 study by economist Richard F. Muth indicated that median incomes in American cities increased by 8% for every mile one moves away from the center–while the median income doubled after ten miles. Similar findings only reinforced this trend.  Of the twenty largest U.S. cities in 1960, the average per capita income was 93.2% of the surrounding suburbs. The income disparity only widened by 1990, with the figure at 75%.

A recent study of poverty statistics from census data in 2000 and 2008 looked at the 95 largest metro areas across the United States. While 18.2% of primary city residents were at or below the poverty line, the suburban figure was only 9.5%. In many ways this significant difference only reinforces earlier findings. Yet almost ten percent of suburban dwellers are now in poverty–people who certainly cannot live in the ideal version of suburbia.

Signs of poverty are becoming more evident. Metropolitan suburbs accounted for a net-growth of 4.8 million low-income residents from 1999 to 2007, as well as another 2.5 million residents who received the federal EITC Earned Income Tax Credit. These figures accounted for half of the nation’s total net growth during the time period.

Suburbs in the United States are still predominately middle and upper-class communities, but the overall socioeconomic makeup of peripheral areas is starting to change. The lawns and subdivisions are still valid stereotypes, just be careful with that caveat.

**authors note:  For a look at pertinent 2009 income data, visit this post.  




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One Comment on “The Last Fifty Years: A Brief Look at U.S. Economic Indicators”

  1. Tara
    October 30, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Interesting snippets. Any chance that a more in-depth overview follows?

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