What household income distribution looks like in Pennsylvania cities

     Two women walk down a street in Pittsburgh’s historic Mexican War Streets district.  (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Two women walk down a street in Pittsburgh’s historic Mexican War Streets district. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Pennsylvania cities have more low-income households and fewer higher-earning households than the national average.

    Pennsylvania cities have more low-income households and fewer higher-earning households than the national average.

    The Brookings Institution, analyzing data from the American Community Survey, broke up cities’ populations by what quintile of the national income distribution households fell into. The Brookings analysis found that “collectively, the smaller cities mirror the national income distribution almost exactly. In large cities, by contrast, both low-income (bottom 20 percent) and very high-income (top 5 percent) households are overrepresented.”

    Aside from Philadelphia, most cities in the Commonwealth are small, yet they bucked that trend: in every city the lower income brackets are overrepresented. In Reading, the lowest income bracket contains more than double the national percentage of low income households. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising considering that many Pennsylvania cities are considered distressed.   

    PA cities’ household income distribution | Create infographics

    Brookings did note that regionally the Northeast and Midwest tend to have a higher proportion of people in the lowest income bracket — higher than the national average, and higher than cities in the West and South. 

    Brookings’ aim in doing this analysis was to see if American cities retain a middle class. Their conclusion? “It turns out that many U.S. cities still retain a sizable middle class, at least judged by national standards,” the report stated. In other words, cities aren’t the exclusive playgrounds of the rich nor are they overwhelmingly poor, Brookings writes. But there are Pennsylvania cities — like Philadelphia, Allentown, Erie, Reading, Scranton — where the bottom two income brackets can make up more than 50 percent of all households.

    The Brookings data does not account for the cost of living; Brookings writes that adjusting for housing costs alone can either make things look more dire or line up cities’ income levels closer to national averages. And other analyses have shown that the actual ‘middle’ varied significantly by city. According to the Business Insider, middle class can be anything from $34,671 to $104,458 per household in Pennsylvania.  

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