America's 10 Most Unequal Major Cities

It's not news that there's a huge disparity between the very rich and the very poor. We live in a world where a man like Bill Gates can be worth $77.1 billion and people living in the war-torn country of the Democratic Republic of Congo have to manage on less than $1 a day (nominal GDP per capita in that African nation stands at a paltry $236 a year). In all fairness, Gates is a well-known philanthropist, having given over $28 billion for charitable causes and being the co-founder of The Giving Pledge with fellow billionaire extraordinaire Warren Buffett.

The gulf between those receiving large salaries and those just managing to scrape by affects powerful economies like the USA. An American Community Survey report of the top 50 largest cities in the country highlighted the growing ratio that's found between those in the top 5 percent by income (so above 95% of the rest of the city's residents) and those in the bottom 20 percent. The list that follows is ordered by the 95/20 ratio, created by dividing the salary that pushes a resident into the top 5 percent by the salary that forces a citizen under the 20 percent line.

One particular anomaly should be noted, though. San Francisco, which is near the top of the list, has a huge margin between the 95th percentile and 20th percentile: $332,263 separates the two. But the poor people in San Francisco are not as poor as residents of the most unequal city, and the rich people are richer. It's believed housing costs in the Californian city prevent lower-salaried workers from being able to live there.

10 Baltimore, MD: 12.2

The low end for Baltimore is a salary of $13,522, whilst the top 5 percent earn a salary of $164,995. This gives Baltimore an inequality ratio of 12.2, which is quite a bit higher than the national average of 9.1 ($20,968 and $191,770 are the cut-off marks). Big cities in the USA suffer from more salary inequality as a whole, with the 50 largest cities averaging an inequality ratio of 10.8 ($18,137 and $196,409 respectively). The lowest end of Baltimore's salaried workers are largely in the service industry, catering to tourists.

9 Los Angeles, CA: 12.3

Los Angeles' bottom 20 percent of workers have to manage with $17,657 whilst the high-flying "5 percenters" can rely on $217,770. Naturally, famous faces such as sometime Hollywood Hills resident Keanu Reeves, who wrangled an estimated $156 million from The Matrix sequels, are going to cause disparity when compared to a Rodeo Drive store worker's salary. Having a collection of highly-paid multi-millionaire movie stars in the area means that this Californian city will always have a high inequality ratio.

8 Chicago, IL: 12.5

Chicago's inequality ratio of 12.5 is created by the division of $201,460 by $16,078. Chicago has a large financial sector operated by well-paid bankers, whilst the city's economy also relies on contributions from industries such as manufacturing and food processing - industries which will not provide the same level of salary as the banks and exchanges. Chicago also happens to be the home to 29 companies that are listed in the Fortune 500 (the top 500 US companies ordered by gross revenue).

7 Oakland, CA: 12.7

Oakland, with a population of 400,070, is the smallest city in this top 10. A low salary level of $17,646 and a high salary level of $223,965 give Oakland an inequality ratio of 12.7. The city's purpose as a major port contributes to the disparity, as many workers involved in the cargo and transport industries are only offered minimum wages paid by the hour. However, these same industries can offer much better salaries for those willing to climb the respective career ladders, with managers earning over $90,000 a year.

6 New York, NY: 13.2

From the smallest city on the list to the largest city. New York City's population of over eight million faces an inequality ratio of 13.2 because of bottom 20 percent of salaries falling under $17,119 and the top 5 percent of salaries surpassing $226,675. New York is renowned for housing the fabulously wealthy, attracted by luxurious real estate such as the apartment at 15 Central Park West that was listed for $44 million (although it did offer 3,952 square feet of space, seven bathrooms and five bedrooms). Media, finance and real estate industries offer incredible wealth; the kind of wealth that the low-paid servers in the city's thousands of restaurants and cafes can only dream of.

5 Washington, DC: 13.3

The nation's capital also suffers from a high inequality ratio, of 13.3. However, the rate for the bottom 20 percent is the highest in this top 10, standing at $21,782. The top earners in the capital can expect a figure above $290,637, which is unsurprising considering the amount of well-paid federal government positions available in the city. Washington's most important resident, the President of the United States, can expect a salary of around $400,000. Surprisingly, the vice-president doesn't make it to the top 5 percent, with a salary of just over $225,000. Secretaries of state can expect $199,000, a long way off the top earners. It is the lesser known federal workers, often medical officers, who push past the $300,000 mark.

4 Boston, MA: 15.3

This eastern seaboard city that dates back to 1630 has an inequality ratio of 15.3: with the high level of $223,838 divided by the low level of $14,604. Boston wields a powerful economy and can rank on a global level with cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Educational services and the high-tech industry contribute to the top end of salaries whereas once again, many workers in the tourist industry or leisure and hospitality services have to settle for the lower end of the salary spectrum.

3 Miami, FL: 15.7

The world-famous city in Florida does not offer high salaries at either end of the scale when compared to other big US cities. The top 5 percent earn over $164,013, much less than the highest earners in Washington and San Francisco. More disturbingly is the fact that the bottom 20 percent of workers have to somehow manage on salaries that go below $10,438. That is almost a third of what the bottom 20 percent of earners in the big city with the lowest inequality ratio, Virginia Beach, VA receive ($31,051, inequality ratio: 6.0). The city government has been bankrupt in the past and Miami has suffered from a disastrous housing crisis.

2 San Francisco, CA: 16.6

If this list had been ordered by the actual dollar difference in salaries, then San Francisco would top it. The high earners can see salaries over $353,576; the low earners dip below $21,313. However, both of those salary levels are more than double the relative figures for Miami. The level of $21,313 is higher than the bottom 20th percentile for both the 50 largest cities survey and the US as a whole. Tourism and technology are important factors in San Francisco's economy, but the industries offer wildly different salary expectations. Whilst a tour guide could be offered a starting salary of $18,000, a software engineer will be looking for a starting figure over $60,000 (the median salary for a software engineer in San Francisco is $90,426).

1 Atlanta, GA: 18.8

With an inequality ratio over double the national level, and three times higher than the nearest equivalent big city (Virginia Beach: 6.0), Atlanta is the most unequal big US city to live in. The 443,768 Atlantans have to tackle either a low salary level of just $14,850 or enjoy a high salary level of $279,827. Offices of over a thousand multinational corporations offer well-paid positions and the city is well known for its biotechnological sector. Specialists attract high salaries, but the city and its manufacturers were hit hard during the recession of 2002-03 and the financial crisis of 2007-08. The city's unemployment rates skyrocketed and its housing market suffered from a spectacular collapse. The poverty rate caused by the loss of jobs and the dramatic decrease in real property value has dragged the bottom 20 percent level of salaries lower, thus helping to create the worrying inequality ratio of 18.8.

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