Wichita ranks as the seventh most unequal city in the U.S., based on the differences between its richest and poorest ZIP codes, according to a new report by the Economic Innovation Group.
The report is the group’s effort to show how uneven the economic recovery has been by looking at economic conditions down to the ZIP code level. Even in prosperous areas, there are pockets of poverty and distress.
In Wichita, the poorest and most distressed ZIP code is 67214, with 42 percent of people below the poverty line. It is framed by Douglas, Hillside, 17th and Market, but leaves out downtown.
The wealthiest and one of the least distressed ZIP codes was 67230, with 3 percent of people below the poverty line. It is roughly bounded by Pawnee, 127th East, 21st and 159th Street East.
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The sharp divide is part of why the city ranks as the country’s 25th most distressed city, out of the 100 largest cities. The stress ranking includes: change in employment and businesses between 2010 and 2013; percent of adults without a high school diploma; percent of vacant housing; percent of the population 16 and older not working; percent of the population under the poverty line; and ratio of median income to the state’s.
Jay Price, professor of history at Wichita State University, said that Wichita developed as one of the most segregated cities in America, and that may have contributed to the dramatic disparity. It locks people into an area economically through homeownership and it reinforces cultural identities.
“If you want to talk about the differences between neighborhoods, get a group of Wichitans to talk about which high school they went to,” he said. “To say East or Southeast or Heights makes a big difference.”
Steve Glickman, co-founder and executive director of the Economic Innovation Group, said the differences between neighborhoods has been made starker by Wichita’s heavy manufacturing heritage. Manufacturing, as an employer of large numbers of workers, has been declining for decades and especially since the recession, leaving whole sections of the city with aging homes and increasing poverty.
It’s a smaller version of what has happened all over the Rust Belt, he said.
The most distressed cities tended to be in the Rust Belt: Camden, N.J, Cleveland, Ohio; Gary, Ind.; Youngstown, Ohio; and Hartford, Conn., were the bottom five.
“Areas, like Wichita, where the industrial economy has traditionally held firmest have really suffered,” Glickman said in an email. “These trends predate the Great Recession, but the recovery has continued to accelerate the fortunes of the most prosperous areas and the downturn of the most distressed.”
The least distressed cities tended to be newer cities in the Sun Belt: Gilbert, Ariz.; Plano, Texas; Irvine, Calif.; Fremont, Calif.; and Chandler, Ariz., were the top five.