Here’s How Cincinnati Stacks Up When It Comes to Household Incomes

Recent data released by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program shows that Cincinnati’s middle class slightly worse off than its Midwestern peers, but is about on pace with the national average.

The study, which categorized individual metropolitan areas and gave regional averages, ranked each city’s population based on six household income categories: Bottom 20% ($21,433 and below); Second 20% ($21,433-$41,109); Middle 20% ($41,110-$65,952); Fourth 20% ($65,952-$106,100); Next 15% ($106,100-$200,000); and Top 5% (Above $200,000).

Cincinnati’s percentage of households making less than $21,433, 34.9% of the city’s population, is significantly higher than the Midwestern and national average 25.1% and 20%, respectively. It is also significantly higher than Pittsburgh (27.9%), but lower than Cleveland (43.2%).

The percentage of households in the middle class (I defined this as the Second 20% and Middle 20%), however, is mostly even. Pittsburgh’s middle class population stands at 41.1%, with Cincinnati at 40% and Cleveland at 39.2%. Cincinnati also stands in the middle when it comes to the upper class, with Pittsburgh again leading and Cleveland trailing.

When compared with the rest of Ohio’s cities with more than 100,000 people, Cincinnati is found to have the highest percentage of Top 5% households, while also having the third highest percentage of Bottom 20% households. This, researchers say, follows a national trend where large cities are over-represented in both categories.

A perhaps startling trend is just how poor so many people are across the Midwest and Ohio.

Of Ohio’s four cities with more than 100,000 people, three of them – Cleveland (#2), Toledo (#4) and Cincinnati (#5) – all rank near the top in terms of the highest percentage of their residents falling within the Bottom 20%. While Columbus comes in at #29, this may be due to the city’s large municipal boundaries that account for areas that would in no way be considered part of any of the other three cities.

While, on average, the study found that Midwestern cities tend to have more low income households, and significantly fewer upper class households than the rest of the nation, it also found that Western and Northeastern cities each have high populations of those making over $200,000, although the Northeast has the highest percentage of households making under $21,433.

Researchers did note, however, that these numbers change somewhat when adjusting for cost of housing across metro areas.

Alan Berube, author of the study and a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, also noted that despite media portrayals of some cities being entirely poor, and others being entirely wealthy, virtually all American cities still boast a large middle class.

  • matimal

    This study was based on Metropolitan Statistical Areas, not municipalities. Columbus’ municipal boundaries are irrelevant here. A valid comparison is being made among all the metros included in the study.

    • The study very clearly states, multiple times, that it analyzed city data, not metropolitan data. Take a look for yourself:

    • matimal

      Then I can’t see much value in it. I’m surprised Brookings would offer such a flawed study.

    • I wouldn’t say that is a fair assessment. They were looking at the most recent ACS data to be released, which was on cities, not MSAs. Furthermore, MSAs are based on commuting patterns and employment influence.

      Generally speaking I prefer comparing MSAs to MSAs, but that is not always a clear cut way to do things. For example, some people may contend it’s more accurate to use the CSA for some regions, while others may not.

      The biggest problem with any city data comparison for Cincinnati is the fact that a good chunk of what would be considered “city” in Cincinnati is actually in a different state. Two incredibly dense housing and employment clusters exist directly across the river from our region’s primary CBD, and they aren’t even counted in any of these data sets.

    • Jake Fessler

      It makes complete sense that Brookings wouldnt use MSAs for this study. The basic pretense of the study is to explore whether or not cities still have large middle classes, especially given recent events. Including suburbs in that defeats the purpose of the study. The problem areas are the consolidated city-counties that make it difficult to measure.

    • matimal

      Not to me. Very little of ‘Boston’ is in Boston, for example. While a majority of ‘Columbus’ is in Columbus. This has to matter to an analysis of the distribution of wealth and poverty in an area.

    • Jake Fessler

      Again, it does make sense if you read the study. They are investigating how much worth the national trend of seemingly describing some cities as all poor and others as only playgrounds for the rich. When people act like Baltimore is all poor, they’re not talking about its suburbs. And the same with NYC when people describe it as becoming a playground only for the rich.
      If this were an article only to compare middle classes, then I would absolutely agree with you that it makes no sense to not compare MSAs. But this study wanted to look at urban areas and urban areas only.

    • matimal

      “Urban areas” and ‘the largest municipality at the center of a metro area’ are not the same thing. That’s my point. Covington, Newport, and Norwood are unquestionably “urban areas.”

  • BillCollins45227

    Because the State of Ohio has allowed the City of Cincinnati to annex so little land since the World War I period and in so many other states annexation continued unimpeded until the last 20 years or so, these city-to-city comparisons provide data that is of little value.

    That’s why all this rhetoric about “Cincinnati being the 2nd poorest City in America” in terms of the percentage of residents who are poor living within the Cincinnati city limits is so flawed. Yes, we have a lot of poor people in this area, but no more than in many other areas. The difference is that the City of Cincinnati does not have annexation power, but cities like Charlotte, Nashville, Greensboro, Columbia, Raleigh, have continued to have annexation power.

    As Randy says, it’s the metro-to-metro data that is more relevant because across geographic areas, that data is more apples-to-apples.