What impact does inequality have on metropolitan areas? Crime rates are higher in places with more inequality, and people in unequal cities are more likely to say that they are unhappy. There is also a negative association between local inequality and the growth of both income and population, once we control for the initial distribution of skills. What determines the degree of inequality across metropolitan areas? Twenty years ago, metropolitan inequality was strongly associated with poverty, but today, inequality is more strongly linked to the presence of the wealthy. Inequality in skills can explain about one third of the variation in income inequality, and that skill inequality is itself explained by historical schooling patterns and immigration. There are also substantial differences in the returns to skill, related to local concentrations in different industries, and these too are strongly correlated with inequality.
All three authors thank the Taubman Center for State and Local Government for financial support. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.