New study: San Francisco has second highest inequality in United States

Map courtesy of Brookings Institution

San Francisco has the second highest gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution released today. 
The study looked at US Census data across different income levels and ranked cities for not only the widening chasm between the rich and the poor, but also the speed at which that gap increased. Though San Francisco has the second widest income inequality gap (second to Atlanta, where the poor are poorer, but the rich far less rich than here), it's tops in terms of the speed at which the wealthy are pulling away from the rest of us, the study found.

"Not surprisingly, San Francisco experienced the largest increase in its ratio from 2007 to 2012," the Brookings Institution reported. "Income for its typical 20th-percentile household dropped $4,000 during that period, while income for its typical 95th-percentile household soared by $28,000. No other city saw nearly as large an increase in its rich households’ incomes."


San Francisco was second place for highest inequality, but tops in terms of speed at which the income gap widened.

San Francisco differed from other cities in the unique nature of its inequality as well -- for the most part, we're unequal because our rich got richer, while other cities' poor got poorer. "San Francisco’s ratio is high because its wealthy households have very high incomes, considerably higher than in any other major city ($353,000 at the 95th percentile)," Brookings Institution reported. And as anyone who's looked for an apartment in San Francisco has seen, the poor and middle class are also getting pushed out of the city, which the study also noted.

So why is all this such a problem? Can't everyone just move to Oakland? The study also noted the problems inherent in a city with a wide income gap.

"A city where the rich are very rich, and the poor very poor, is likely to face many difficulties," the Brookings Institution noted. "It may struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families, so that those who move up or down the income ladder ultimately have no choice but to move out."

These are problems the city knows all too well. As the San Francisco Public Press reported recently, our public school system is increasingly divided between haves and have-nots, and as the Guardian reported only this week, our infrastructure funding is lacking by billions of dollars. And of course, as our families flee the city, San Francisco loses its children in droves, which US Census data has also highlighted. 

Read the full report from on San Francisco's widening income gap here.



than you, it does not follow that you have any less as a result, because the difference is the wealth that he created.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 11:43 am

or just mouthing Randian platitudes?

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

Your argument rests on the improbability that success creates zero wealth.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

I've heard the author interviewed on Harry Shearer's radio program Le Show several times talking about the mortgage crisis and criminality among bankers.

The link is great. Thanks.

Here's an excerpt I found notable:

"But even more important is that high levels of income inequality exert a toll on all, particularly on health. Would you trade a shorter lifespan for a much higher level of wealth? Most people would say no, yet that is precisely the effect that the redesigning of economic arrangements to serve the needs at the very top is producing. Highly unequal societies are unhealthy for their members, even members of the highest strata. Not only do these societies score worse on all sorts of indicators of social well-being, but they exert a toll even on the rich. Not only do the plutocrats have less fun, but a number of studies have found that income inequality lowers the life expectancy even of the rich."

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

Isn't that merely an attack of acute envy and resentment?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

"You might argue: Why do these results matter to rich people, who can live in gated compounds? If you’ve visited some rich areas in Latin America, particularly when times generally are bad, marksmen on the roofs of houses are a norm. Living in fear of your physical safety is not a pretty existence.

Japan, which made a conscious decision to impose the costs of its post bubble hangover on all members of society to preserve stability, has gotten through its lost two decades with remarkable grace. The US seems to be implementing the polar opposite playbook, and there are good reasons to think the outcome of this experiment will be ugly indeed."

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

America IS the experiment i.e. that giving people the freedom and opportunity to succeed (or fail) is a matter for their own effort and enterprise, and not for a bureaucrat to determine.

You can go and live in repressed Japan or basketcase Latin America if you want. Or in socialized Europe. And yet here you are in the most unequal nation in the west and have nothing to show for it.

Why do you torture yourself so? And why has time and your life left you with such a sad situation that you spend your days railing and ranting against those who have taken the opportunities that you have spurned.

Posted by Lilli the Loser. on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

Rich people benefit when their workers take Muni to work. You are too dumb to follow a simple argument though, so I won't waste both of our times.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 12:01 am

the tax money went to poor people, it certainly does not.

Raising taxes just employs more people to do make work jobs.

Posted by guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 11:20 pm

Why don't you pony up DEADBEAT....

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2014 @ 1:45 pm

In a BG article yesterday, the article began with "San Francisco is booming..."

I gave examples of how homelessness is booming, building for the wealthy is booming, gadget-addiction is booming, tech is taking over the city, but local stores in my area are far from booming. Most are empty when I walk by. Lately, one restaurant opens and another one closes. Things for the wealthy are booming. I found out today from the SNAP program that even if a person has $300 in their credit union or bank account that the person is still eligible for food stamps at this time. They said this temporary override of their requirement is, "because the economy is so bad we're now making that exception." So apparently SNAP would not say, "San Francisco is booming."

Posted by Miguel on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 6:34 pm
Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

it is true

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 6:56 pm

We have a state with the highest gas taxes and sales taxes in the country.

We have skyrocketing bridge tolls that Progressives in the Capitol don't utter a peep about.

We have insanely expensive "smart" meter parking rates and parking tickets fines.

All these taxes disproportionately hurt the poor and these are all taxes supported by Democrats.

So instead of whining about inequality which does nothing for anybody, why not do something that actually helps middle and lower class citizens keep more money in their pockets??

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

If you really care about these issues, rather than just use them as a rhetorical bludgeon against progressives, you'd recognize that it's not a progressive-conservative issue. Many progressives, myself included, agree with you on many of these issues. Many of your fellow conservatives, like the Ed Lee appointed MTA, are on the other side. If you really care about these issues you'd be reaching out and making coalitions rather than just trashing people who might otherwise agree with you.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 11:23 pm

do not want "tax anything that moves" mayors like Avalos and Ammiano.

The city cannot really tax wealth, income or capital gains. The city raises most of its funds, after what Sacramento gives back from property tax, from sales tax supplements and a variety of user fees and fines.

That's why the recession led to so much cutting back of services, because there is no reliable source the city can go to, and many of us are grateful for that

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 8:33 am

San Francisco, California imposes a payroll tax of 1.5% on approximately 6,000 businesses with payrolls of larger than $250,000; the tax collected $342 million in 2010. In

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 12:06 am

It's a tax (notionally) on people who work in SF.

My claim was that the city cannot tax income, cap gains or wealth. That is true. It's also desirable.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 8:34 am

Because they love city employees more than they do the poor.

Posted by guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 1:04 pm

Poor people walk, bicycle and ride the bus.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 12:04 am

That is a well-established fact. (Also, some people who walk, bicycle--and even ride the 1 California--are not poor. They can call a limo or a cab when they wish to have such conveyances.)

Some poor people are working in the wee hours of the night and morning when GPD is probably asleep in a comfy bed, and they are working for low wages in outlying areas which are not served by mass-transit.

Others may rely on their vehicle to earn money, such as doing pizza deliveries.

Etc., etc.

This is just a fact.

Posted by lillipublicans on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 10:07 am

Poor people may be driven out to cheap areas where public transit is poor, meaning a car is needed.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 11:04 am

Muni runs 24 X 7 and serves all parts of San Francisco. No part of San Francisco is more than 1 mile away from a night owl stop.

If you mean there are some poor people that drive that don't live in San Francisco, then I will grant you that.

There are probably a few desperately poor people that live in their cars.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

unpleasant and unreliable even in better served areas.

So you either live centrally and walk everywhere or live further out where a life without a car is somewhere between miserable and impossible

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

How princely of you to acknowledge that... "probably."

And if I misread your comment to have granted the fact that some people may live IN San Francisco and commute OUT of the city, then I'd give you faint praise for that too.

But what sort of person assures us that a Night Owl service bus is perfectly adequate? Someone who knows what they are talking about? Or someone who is fixing the facts around their preconceived notion that all car drivers are rich slobs that must be punished?

That Night Owl bus might require a half hour of walking though whatever weather and who-knows-what-neighborhood, and usually runs on the hour and therefore might tend to get a worker to his or her job either very early or slightly late; the latter of which working folks realize is a firing offense at many places if done on a regular basis.

Did I successfully take all the vitriol out of this?

GPD doesn't always get it right.

*lillipublicans: real or fake?

Posted by lillipublicans* on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

Yes, vitriol free and I congratulate you for that.

I took Muni all the time growing up and pretty much never could afford a car. I have take the night owl after a night drinking in rough neighborhoods back when San Francisco was much more dangerous. The only time I have ever been mugged was in North Beach.

Do you think that families in San Francisco with or without a car have more money? Do you think that the 30% of families without access to a car have a higher or lower income than the median?

You know as well as I do that the car-less population overwhelming skews towards being the poorest. Your figleaf example of one or two exceptions is just a moral rationalization for policies that you know advance the causes of the middle class and wealthy over the poor.

More cars and traffic hurt the poor more than anyone else. They are the most likely to have resperatory diseases, they are the ones most likely to have their Muni commute negatively impacted by congestion. Go read the TEP project summaries.

I would support some kind of means tested exemption from having to pay parking and bridge fees.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Mar. 18, 2014 @ 7:02 am

Why the fu$k are we talking about a change that results in 6k less of anything?
6k is .7 percent of the total SF population. Get your head out of the weeds and look at the bigger picture.

SF is obsessed with minutiae

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 7:48 am

We need to band together and get to #1 on the inequality scale. Come on, SF! We can do it!

Posted by Chromefields on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 8:54 am

If we were all equal and poor, why would that be better?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 9:04 am

If that is what you want ... move to Cuba...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

I'd rather be equal and rich, like in Germany or Norway. But why cherrypick? Here's an inequality map of the world:

One thing you can immediately see, is that generally speaking, the more equal countries are the ones where it's most pleasant to live. Obviously there are exceptions, but the exceptions prove the rule. It's amazing how well the trend actually holds up.

It even holds up when you divide it up by region, or by countries with comparable conditions.

What are the best countries in South America in terms of living conditions? Argentina, Venezuela, Chile (exception), Uruguay. All governed by socialist governments, although Chile has stubborn inequality which makes it an exception. The worst? Colombia, Paraguay, Bolivia (exception). The first two are governed by the right.

Is it any wonder that Guatemala, El Salvador, and particularly Honduras after the US-backed coup, are wracked by violence and misery... while Cuba and Sandinista-governed Nicaragua are relatively calm and safe? Answer: just look at the inequality map. No data for Cuba, but we can all agree it's pretty equal.

Look at Western Europe. Where are the best places to live in Western Europe -the ones with the lowest social ills? Germany, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland -all in the dark green zone except the last two, which aren't far behind. Where are the worst? UK, Portugal. Again, inequality is your answer.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 11:11 am

How the heck do you make that out?

And why are the French getting in line to move to England?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 11:43 am

In Western Europe, quality of life in the UK is rated consistently among the lowest, in terms of various markers like health outcomes, poverty and crime. France generally rates high on quality of life, but not as high as some of the most equal countries in Western Europe.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

75% tax rate.

Most Americans would rather live in England than France. Your biases are notable.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

so that may well be true. But I see no evidence that people are leaving France in droves. Immigration figures for France and the UK look similar, but France wins on most indicators of quality of life.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

significant numbers, to escape Hollande's 75% tax rate. the highest tax rate in the UK is 45%.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 8:42 am

"No data for Cuba, but we can all agree it's pretty equal."

LOL. You don't know much about Communist countries, do you?

Party members get special housing, get to shop in special stores, get to send their kids to special schools, get medical treatment in special clinics, and get to vacation in special resorts.

Stated income in a Communist country is pretty meaningless - what matters is whether you get the perks provided to the elite or not.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

I mean, Greg, we've had Communist governments for nearly a century, and lots of ex-Communist countries with historical archives that you can examine.

It's not really a big secret how Communist governments operate, and the preferential treatment that Party members (particularly senior Party members) get under those governments.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

Don't forget that it's impossible to get ahead in communist countries without being a member of the Party. Did you really think that everyone joins the Party because they believe in it???

Posted by Guest on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 5:28 pm
"The evolution of the Gini coefficient is particularly useful as it reveals trends. It shows the evolution towards greater equality in Cuba from 1953 to 1986 (0.55 to 0.22) and the growth of inequality in the USA in the last three decades during which the Gini went from 0.35 in the '70's to 0.40 now (and it is still rising!). "

So Cuba made big strides in the years after the revolution. Also, the data is old. US is now nearing the .5 mark now.

That said, things have gone the other way since 1986:
"Cuba's Gini index of income inequality rose from .24 in 1986 to .38 in 2000, according to Havana professor Myra Espina in a paper published in Cuba."...

..."Most local experts say Cuba's Gini index has risen further since 2000, although no new figures are available and they believe it is still less than other countries in Latin America, which tend to come in between .50 and .60."

Note, though, that the growing problem of inequality in Cuba is NOT due to any privileges received by party officials. It's due to the limited market reforms that have given some Cubans access to tourist dollars. Usually it's not the party officials that are engaged in these businesses.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

The original argument (if it could be called that) was that in communist Cuba, everyone is "equal and poor." Now you're saying they're not equal anymore, because you want to disagree with me?

Truth is, it is pretty equal. There are some benefits to being a party member, but it's nothing like the inequality we have here.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 23, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

Nobody who knows anything about Communist countries would swallow the lie that incomes in Cuba are "relatively equal".

I'll agree that the average Cuban is terribly, terribly poor.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 12:54 am

It was meant to be an addendum to my other post, with some actual data. Cuba made enormous strides in reducing inequality, there has been some regression as a result of limited market reforms, but it's still by all accounts one of the most equal countries in the western hemisphere. That's what the data shows, and that would be my own rough assessment from when I was there.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 8:24 am

And the only people going the other way are crooks

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 8:40 am

Were they fleeing communism too?

People in Cuba hear Radio Marti and think the streets of Miami are paved with gold. The lure of riches is very appealing to some. Not to all, or even most, but to some.

People immigrate from poorer countries to richer ones. That's old news.

What is more interesting, is to see what happens when two countries that are about equal in terms of wealth. Venezuela and Colombia is an instructive example. In 1998, living standards and per capita GDP were roughly equal; today after 15 years of Chavismo, Venezuela stands at close to twice Colombia's per capita GDP. And even those figures mask the real difference, because Venezuela's inequality is much lower. As a result, you have some 4 *million* Colombians who now call Venezuela home. This is a staggering amount of immigrants for a nation of 30 million to absorb, but absorb them they have. The only people who have gone the other way are crooks and terrorists looking to evade justice.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

How about this. Why do people are constantly trying to LEAVE communist countries if it's so good there and not vice-versa? Why do people want to leave countries like Cuba and North Korea for democratic countries like the US and South Korea?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

If Cuba, North Korea, Bulgaria and all these other places are so great, why are their people risking their lives to leave?

People like Greg wax lyrical about these places from their privileged place right here in the US.

Posted by anon on Feb. 24, 2014 @ 7:21 pm

Remember the Berlin Wall? It epitomized the Cold War. Division between East and West, Communism and Democracy. It was also the perfect symbol for that clash too in that it was built to keep people inside a communist country at the barrel of a gun and not to keep capitalists out.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

their desire to live in a place that was less equal.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2014 @ 6:47 pm

Why is anyone surprised? Since at least 1819, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized corporations as having the same rights as a person ( What has accelerated in the last 30 years, since Reaganomic Propaganda swept the country, is the acceleration of power and money to those who run corporations. This is feudalism.

While it's fun to complain, not much gets done if that's all we do. There are many places to start the turn of this tide and San Francisco because of it's current state of wealth disparity and history of activism is the best place for this to happen.

What can be done?

1. Well for starters, maybe the Bay Guardian can provide Next Step bullet points at the end of every article about this topic. Those need only be the name, date, location, and focus of an activist event related to the article's topic.

Perhaps we could set aside the many, many problems and look at broad reform that can be accomplished with the fewest steps. For example, AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

2. Problem: How can the low and middle-income housing crisis be addressed in SF? Answer: Take housing speculation out of the equation.

2a. More specifically, remove any tax deduction benefit to the owner of residential property in San Francisco who is not using it as their primary residence. That would be the mortgage interest tax deduction. Do this by increasing the city tax for the equivalent amount and putting it into creation of housing for homeless, low income, and middle income city residents.

This isn't easy but it is doable. It would require a ballot initiative, which in itself can happen in one of two ways: 50,000 signatures on petitions OR all the Board of Supervisors voting in favor of putting it on the ballot.

Then there is the campaign. Think of all the corporate persons with all their money trying to prevent the initiative from passing. Think of the money that would pour in from corporate persons outside SF, outside CA.

2b. Regulate companies like AirBnB (and users of) as any other Bed and Breakfast is regulated.

Now, someone can't buy a pied-a-terre in San Francisco, deduct the interest on the sky-high mortgage, while renting it out through AirBnB for an outrageous amount, to corporations who want to house new employees -----> for an amount that will be deducted from federal taxes as a BUSINESS EXPENSE.

Posted by freeTheBison on Feb. 22, 2014 @ 10:34 am

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