Atlanta has the highest income inequality among large U.S. cities, census data shows

Data shows that Atlanta has the most significant disparity between the rich and the poor among cities with over 100,000 inhabitants.

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Atlanta, the 38th most populous city in the country, has the highest income inequality among major American cities, primarily due to the Georgia capital’s long-standing racial inequities.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, its ranking is based on the Gini coefficient, a statistic used by economists and organizations worldwide to gauge income inequality. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau covers five years, from 2016 to 2020.

Statistics show Atlanta has a Gini coefficient of 0.5786 and the most significant disparity between the rich and the poor among cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants — and it has reportedly dominated the country in this ranking for at least 10 years now.

A view of downtown Atlanta. The city has the highest income inequality among major American cities, primarily due to its long-standing racial inequities. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“When a very large percentage is vulnerable to that kind of economic pressure, it says that we have a lot of work to do,” said Kyle Waide, president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

The Gini coefficient, which ranges from zero to one, expresses how income is divided among a population.

In a community with a score of zero, every member earns the same amount of money. The inequality increases with a higher decimal score. The highest level of wealth concentration at the top, where one person holds all the money, is represented by a Gini coefficient of one.

New York City comes in at No. 7 with a coefficient of 0.5470; New Orleans is ranked No. 2 with a coefficient of 0.5655, and Tampa is ranked No. 8 with a score of 0.5426. Phoenix, Arizona — ranked No. 119 on the list, with a Gini coefficient score of 0.4710 — occupies the other end.

Atlanta’s wealth divide is even more evident in geographic terms. According to Census data, the majority-white neighborhood of Buckhead, in the north, is one of the wealthiest in the city. Thomasville Heights, in southeast Atlanta, is one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and has a mostly Black population.

Experts blame several historical and contemporary events for Atlanta’s wealth disparity, including widespread redlining, mass imprisonment, gentrification and a flawed health care system.

According to Jason Delaney, an economist at Georgia Gwinnett College, the Gini index is a tried-and-true indicator that economists frequently employ, but there are certain restrictions. He claims it did not consider the disparities in the cost of living or the regional distribution of wealth.

In the case of Atlanta, the calculation disregards many middle-class areas in Cobb, DeKalb and Stone Mountain.

“City boundaries are incredibly political,” Delaney said, AJC reported.

Georgia’s economy is expanding rapidly overall, which also directly benefits Atlanta. According to a list issued earlier this year, 17 of the 19 Fortune 500 companies in the state — still considered one of the best in the nation for business — are located in the metro area.

Still, says Janelle Williams, a co-founder of the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative, those realities “have not translated into new realities for Black people in this city born south of I-20.”

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