The Middle Class, Gutted: 10 Cities Where it is Being Destroyed

A resident passes an abandoned home in what was once a thriving middle class area in Detroit

A resident passes an abandoned home in what was once a thriving middle class area in Detroit | Jeff Haynes /AFP/Getty Images

America’s shrinking middle class has been one of, if not the hottest topic of conversation on a national scale for some time now. Following decades of strong economic growth powered by a strong, vibrant middle class, America has seemingly hit a rut — with a couple of recessions slowing things down considerably, and wage growth all but stalling out. The result? The American middle class is actively shrinking, which is worrisome for a number of reasons.

As for how we’ve managed to get here? It’s complicated, and there are numerous factors that have played into it. But we’re finally seeing the anger start to boil over and manifest itself in protests and in widespread support for non-traditional political candidates. If, or how, we can get back to the glory years of America’s middle class has yet to be seen.

We can see the proof in the proverbial pudding. Pew Research Center recently released a new report detailing America’s shrinking middle class, showing not only where economic strength has been jettisoned, but where it has been transferred to. Some cities are being decimated by stagnant economic conditions, while others are prospering behind new industries and technologies. Think Detroit versus Silicon Valley, for example.

“Among American adults overall, including those from outside the 229 areas examined in depth, the share living in middle-income households fell from 55% in 2000 to 51% in 2014,” Pew’s report says, but it’s not necessarily all bad news. “Reflecting the accumulation of changes at the metropolitan level, the nationwide share of adults in lower-income households increased from 28% to 29% and the share in upper-income households rose from 17% to 20% during the period.”

So, there are actually more people climbing the ladder than slipping into the lower classes. That’s a good sign. But again, there are certain parts of the country that are struggling.

From Pew’s report, here are the 10 cities that lost the most in economic status between 2000 and 2014.

10. Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Rocky Mount is a small city located about halfway between the Carolina coast and the state’s capital, Raleigh. Pew’s team identifies Rocky Mount as one of a few cities on the list that is not located in the Rust Belt — an area where many cities have been hard-hit by large industrial and economic changes. Rocky Mount is, or was, a strong industrial city, and has been ravaged by big changes in the manufacturing sector.

9. Rockford, Illinois

A Tea Party supporter watches as buses from the Tea Party Express national tour arrive in Rockford

A Tea Party supporter watches as buses from the Tea Party Express national tour arrive in Rockford | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Rockford, Illinois is located to the northwest of Chicago, and to the southwest of Milwaukee — a small city which has the unfortunate distinction of being one of America’s most miserable cities, according to Forbes. Like Rocky Mount, Rockford was hit hard by the decline in manufacturing and industry.

8. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan

Hillary Clinton speaks in Detroit

Hillary Clinton speaks in Detroit | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Detroit’s issues have been spelled out on a national scale for some time now. Located in the heart of the rust belt, a decline in manufacturing and good, well-paying union jobs have turned the once-proud city into the butt of many jokes. But it’s still home to many large companies, and there are signs that the area is poised for a strong comeback.

7. Mansfield, Ohio

Another Rust Belt city which has been done-in by the exodus of manufacturing and industrial jobs over the past few decades, Mansfield, Ohio has seen an 11-point swing in the percentage of upper-income to lower-income households. The city, which has a population of around 50,000, is located in a sort of no-man’s land halfway between the bigger cities of Cleveland and Columbus, meaning that jobs are hard to come by.

6. Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne, Indiana is a larger city than its Midwest counterparts Mansfield and Rockford, but its middle class population has been savaged nonetheless. Fort Wayne has seen an 11% swing in higher-income to lower-income households, which can also be traced to big changes in manufacturing and industry over the past several years.

5. Michigan City-La Porte, Indiana

A steel plant on the shores of Lake Michigan

A steel plant on the shores of Lake Michigan | Scott Olson/Getty Images

It’s a similar story with Michigan City and La Porte, two cities situated in northern Indiana, near Lake Michigan. The same issues that have plagued other Rust Belt cities have hit the area hard, with many manufacturing and industrial jobs being automated, or sent overseas. Like Mansfield and Fort Wayne, an 11% swing in household economic status landed the area on this list.

4. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, North Carolina

The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area in North Carolina has seen a 13% swing in higher-income to lower-income households, ranking it among the hardest-hit in the nation. Located north of Charlotte, Pew says that the area has experienced a dramatic drop in employment due to manufacturing job losses: with a 25% drop in private-sector employment since 2000.

3. Jackson, Michigan

Jackson is located in central Michigan; right on Interstate 94 between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, and south of Lansing. And it hasn’t been immune to the big economic changes that swept through the Rust Belt states. Job losses in the industrial and manufacturing sectors have led to a 14% change in higher-to-lower income households.

2. Goldsboro, North Carolina

North Carolina

North Carolina | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Goldsboro is the final and hardest-hit North Carolina city on the list with a swing of 16% in higher-to-lower income households. It’s the same story in Goldsboro as it is in Hickory and Rocky Mount (of which Goldsboro is located directly south of): Manufacturing and private sector jobs have been stripped away, shipped to other areas, or removed completely.

1. Springfield, Ohio

Demolition in downtown Springfield, Ohio

Demolition in downtown Springfield, Ohio | Greater Springfield official Instagram account

The middle class in Springfield, Ohio has been hit harder than any other city in the country, by Pew’s measures. The change in economic status between higher to lower income households between 2000 and 2014 was 16%. Springfield has suffered from the same diaspora of strong jobs as many other Rust Belt towns, and as a result, has seen its middle class decimated. That’s not to say there aren’t signs of hope in the pipeline.

To see more details, check out the Pew Research Center’s full report.

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