The blog of the Urban Institute
September 15, 2020

Which Cities Became More (and Less) Racially and Economically Inclusive over the Past Few Years?

A few years ago, we explored how 274 of the largest US cities ranked on racial, economic, and overall inclusion across four decades. We defined inclusion as the opportunity for all residents to contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity. Journalists, advocates, city leaders, and practitioners then used our data feature and report to reflect upon their policies and programs and to hold leaders accountable to inclusion goals.

In Dallas, Texas, journalists cited the city’s poor ranking to push for change and argue against rapid-transit fare hikes. In South Dallas, Rev. Michael Waters pointed to the rankings to emphasize the need for racial equity to city council, saying “the Urban Institute… studied over 274 American cities.… And would you know that the city of Dallas came in dead last in all of America?” He urged the council to “do what is right for the city of Dallas: bring down Confederate monuments. Uplift the citizen’s review board. And make sure that every person in the city of Dallas has a means of work, a means of education, a means of thriving, a means of living.”

In Fresno, California, the Developing the Region’s Inclusive and Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) initiative used the measures to design and implement programs to address inequities in their city and advocate for change. The DRIVE team cited how Fresno consistently came in came in last of 59 in California on inclusion to remind city leaders and business representatives that action was needed to push equity and inclusion forward in their region. “Urban Institute’s inclusion metrics have made it crystal clear that the status quo of Fresno’s economy is not okay,” said Ashley Swearengin, president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, who helps lead the DRIVE initiative. “Ranking last among major cities in California and almost last in the United States for economic inclusion is more than a call to action for our community. It is an outcry that must be heard and deliberately and aggressively responded to by every leader and every institution in our community.”

To help cities continue advancing inclusion, particularly during the pandemic, which is highlighting the already-wide disparities in these very indicators of inclusion, we updated the feature to evaluate inclusion in the same cities in 2016. Using these data, we found that many cities improved on inclusion since 2013, but some worsened.

Which cities became more inclusive?

Between 2013 and 2016, Duluth, Minnesota, improved most on overall inclusion, jumping 73 ranks. The following factors drove Duluth’s improvement:

  • a reduction in income segregation (residents were more likely to live near people of different income levels in 2016 than they were three years prior)
  • reductions in the share of households paying more than 35 percent of their annual household income on rent
  • reductions in the proportion of families that contain at least one person working full time but still earn less than the federal poverty level
  • reductions in racial segregation
  • reductions in their racial homeownership gap
  • reductions in their racial poverty gap

Other cities on our top-10 list saw large improvements to their racial poverty gap, like Billings, Montana, and Oxnard, California, and others saw significant reductions in their high school dropout rate, including Waterbury, Connecticut, and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

 

City

State

Inclusion rank 2016

Inclusion rank 2013

Change

Duluth

MN

178

251

+73

Waterbury

CT

161

227

+66

Aurora

IL

168

230

+62

Oxnard

CA

130

190

+60

Palmdale

CA

122

176

+54

Allentown

PA

181

235

+54

Charleston

SC

105

158

+53

Billings

MT

67

116

+49

Pueblo

CO

110

159

+49

Lansing

MI

146

192

+46

 

Which cities became less inclusive?

Hialeah, Florida, experienced the most drastic drop in inclusion ranking, moving from 78th in 2013 to 171st in 2016. The following factors contributed to its drop:

  • an increase in the high school dropout rate
  • a large increase in the gap between the rates of white homeownership and homeownership by people of color
  • an increase in the gap between the rates of poverty between white people and people of color
  • an increase in the gap between high school graduation rates for white people and people of color

Other cities that dropped on inclusion saw large increases in rent burden, like Thornton, Colorado, and Wichita Falls, Texas, and others saw increased residential racial segregation, such as Elizabeth, New Jersey.

City

State

Inclusion rank 2016

Inclusion rank 2013

Change

Hialeah

FL

171

78

-93

Canton

OH

228

149

-79

Trenton

NJ

230

161

-69

Gresham

OR

260

191

-69

Albany

NY

232

174

-58

Alexandria

VA

190

141

-49

Baton Rouge

LA

242

193

-49

Elizabeth

NJ

136

88

-48

Wichita Falls

TX

152

104

-48

Thornton

CO

131

86

-45

 

As cities recover from COVID-19, how can they become more inclusive?

As cities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders must focus on equity and inclusion to make up for the declines we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic. We have identified the following eight building blocks cities can use to increase inclusion during the recovery:

  1. Adopt a shared vision early on, and get buy-in from local stakeholders.
  2. Inspire and sustain bold leadership from committed public officials or other dedicated stakeholders.
  3. Recruit partners from across sectors, including resident groups, the media, and business leaders. Diverse partners can create buy-in, generate and elevate insights, and support solutions.
  4. Build voice and power within traditionally underrepresented or disenfranchised communities. Ensure diverse representation in planning and political processes.
  5. Leverage assets and intrinsic advantages, such as a city’s physical spaces and the potential of its residents.
  6. Think and act regionally. Job and housing markets cross jurisdictional lines, and residents often live, work, and use services outside their city. Regional partnerships can help secure broadly shared prosperity.
  7. Reframe inclusion as integral to growth to encourage progress in both areas. A growing body of evidence suggests that diversity and inclusion are catalysts for economic development.
  8. Adopt policies and programs to support inclusion. Policies and programs that promote inclusion in education, housing, economic development, and fiscal policy can lead to long-term success.

City leaders should work with their residents, particularly those who have been historically excluded from decisions, to identify concrete steps to increase equity and inclusion in the wake of COVID-19.

Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.