Cities that were once hubs for major companies and their manufacturing facilities have experienced a significant decline in their economies as those companies downsize, relocate or move their factories overseas. And as the number of available jobs declines, many people have left these cities, leaving only the poor behind and causing poverty rates to rise.
To determine which cities have experienced diminishing wealth, GOBankingRates examined 82 major cities across the U.S. and compared the change in the following factors between 1969 — the start of the Rust Belt manufacturing decline — and 2016, the most recent year data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau: per capita income, median household income, population and poverty rate.
Click through to see which cities are getting poorer.
15. St. Louis
- 1969 Per capita income: $22,837
- 2016 Per capita income: $25,434
- 2016 Poverty rate: 26.7 percent
The poverty rate has increased 15.8 percent in St. Louis since 1969, and the city has experienced a major population decrease since that time as well — it’s just over half of what it used to be, dropping from 622,236 in 1969 to 311,404 in 2016.
Mergers and acquisitions throughout the 1990s and 2000s caused the city to shift from a site of major corporations to a branch-plant town, and the economy took a hit as a result. Now St. Louis is hoping a focus on startups will help to rebuild its economy. It’s currently one of the hottest cities for new businesses, a separate GOBankingRates study found.
14. Providence, R.I.
- 1969 Per capita income: $21,869
- 2016 Per capita income: $22,452
- 2016 Poverty rate: 28.2 percent
In Providence, the per capita income has only risen $583 in the past 37 years, even adjusting for inflation. Meanwhile, the poverty rate in the city has risen 18 percent.
Providence’s economic decline could be attributed to overseas competition for manufacturing jobs, which previously made up the bulk of the city’s wealth, Business Insider reported. The city took another hit during the Great Recession, and recovery has been slower in Providence than in other parts of the country, the Providence Journal reported.
- 1969 Per capita income: $22,336
- 2016 Per capita income: $26,152
- 2016 Poverty rate: 29.9 percent
The median household income in Cincinnati is $34,629 — over $20,000 below the U.S. median household income, which is $57,617.
The city has seen a significant population decrease over the years with a 154,714 drop, from 453,514 in 1969 to 298,800 in 2016. This decline is due to a combination of factors, including shrinking family size, non-residential buildings taking the place of former residential buildings, and people being displaced by commercial and institutional growth, according to UrbanCincy.com.
The city is, not surprisingly, home to one of the poorest zip codes in America, a separate GOBankingRates study found.
- 1969 Per capita income: $23,679
- 2016 Per capita income: $23,696
- 2016 Poverty rate: 25.9 percent
The per capita income in Philadelphia has remained stagnant between 1969 and 2016, while the poverty rate has increased 15.9 percent and the population has decreased by 382,124. The median household income in the city is $39,770.
Philadelphia’s economy and population both began declining in the 1950s as manufacturing plants closed or moved, and residents began leaving for more suburban areas — even though it’s cheaper to live in the city than the suburbs of Philly, according to a separate GOBankingRates study. However, a diversified economy and immigration to the city are helping it bounce back, FiveThirtyEight reported.
11. Bridgeport, Conn.
- 1969 Per capita income: $25,803
- 2016 Per capita income: $21,816
- 2016 Poverty rate: 22.1 percent
The median household income has risen in Bridgeport from $34,073 in 1969 to $43,137, but it is still below the national median income. And the per capita income has actually decreased by nearly $4,000 over that time frame.
Like many other major cities, Bridgeport suffered when manufacturing plants began shutting down. The city was once home to factories that produced Singer sewing machines, Remington rifles, and engines and electronics for General Electric — but once those companies left the area, so did the jobs. A decline in available jobs and a rising crime rate led to a population drop as well, NPR reported.
10. Toledo, Ohio
- 1969 Per capita income: $23,004
- 2016 Per capita income: $20,317
- 2016 Poverty rate: 27.5 percent
The per capita income and population are both on the decline in Toledo, while the poverty rate is rising: it’s increased 18.3 percent between 1969 and 2016.
And the situation isn’t getting better. Businesses continue to leave the city, which prevents the poverty situation from being alleviated, The Blade reported.
9. Buffalo, N.Y.
- 1969 Per capita income: $22,252
- 2016 Per capita income: $21,566
- 2016 Poverty rate: 31.2 percent
The poverty rate in Buffalo has jumped 22.1 percent since 1969, while the population dropped from 462,728 to 256,902. The median household income in the Northeast city is $33,119.
Buffalo was once a hub for business due to its proximity to the Eerie Canal, but advances in transportation technology reduced its importance, and industry was lost to cities with cheaper labor costs, City Journal reported. A loss of jobs led to a poorer population, which led to cheaper housing, which then attracted more poor people to the area, perpetuating a cycle of poverty, according to the publication.
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- 1969 Per capita income: $24,292
- 2016 Per capita income: $20,630
- 2016 Poverty rate: 28.4 percent
In this Midwest city, the population dropped from 741,324 in 1969 to 595,047 in 2016. During those same years, the poverty rate increased 20.5 percent. The per capita income has also experienced a drop between 1969 and 2016.
The biggest cause of declining per capita income and increasing poverty is the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs. In the 1970s, Schlitz, Pabst and American Motors left the area, and the city’s economy hasn’t been able to recover, The Atlantic reported.
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7. Trenton, N.J.
- 1969 Per capita income: $25,246
- 2016 Per capita income: $17,130
- 2016 Poverty rate: 27.6 percent
The per capita income has dropped over $8,000 in Trenton between 1969 and 2016. The city also experienced a population drop between those years, while the poverty rate rose 18.3 percent. The median household income in Trenton is $34,412.
The city is currently trying to reverse its economic downturn by attracting new residents with more housing options, incentivizing industrial and business development, and adding new retail spaces, NJ.com reported.
6. Rochester, N.Y.
- 1969 Per capita income: $25,135
- 2016 Per capita income: $19,830
- 2016 Poverty rate: 32.8 percent
Nearly one-third of Rochester residents live in poverty as of 2016, but that wasn’t always the case — the poverty rate in the city has risen 25.4 percent since 1969. Since that time, per capita income and population decreased, and the median household income remained largely stagnant. It’s now $31,684 — the fifth-lowest of all 82 cities surveyed in this study.
Rochester’s economy has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs, even in recent years: Since 2010, 4,000 manufacturing jobs have left the city, Democrat & Chronicle reported.
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5. Newark, N.J.
- 1969 Per capita income: $27,607
- 2016 Per capita income: $17,198
- 2016 Poverty rate: 29.1 percent
Newark experienced the second-largest drop in per capita income between 1969 and 2016 of all the cities included in this study: $10,409. The median household income fell $455 between those years, while the population dropped from 405,220 to 281,764.
Although it probably won’t completely reverse Newark’s poverty problem, the city is currently in the running to be the site of Amazon’s second headquarters, which would certainly add new jobs to the area.
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4. Hartford, Conn.
- 1969 Per capita income: $26,994
- 2016 Per capita income: $18,365
- 2016 Poverty rate: 31.9 percent
The poverty rate has increased 25 percent in Hartford in between 1969 and 2016. The city also experienced a major drop in per capita income between those years, and the population decreased from 162,178 to 123,243. The median income also dropped, from $35,523 in 1969 to $32,095 in 2016.
Much of Hartford’s major population decrease occurred during the 1990s, which led to a significant decrease in its job base, Brookings reported. With people and jobs gone, the remaining population is disproportionately poor.
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3. Dayton, Ohio
- 1969 Per capita income: $24,494
- 2016 Per capita income: $17,461
- 2016 Poverty rate: 34.5 percent
Dayton has the third-highest poverty rate of all of the cities on this list — it increased 26.5 percent from 1969. The median income is now a low $28,745 — $3,536 less than it was in 1969.
Manufacturing jobs in Dayton have been disappearing over the past several decades, which has led to a rise in poverty. Since the early 1970s, nearly 15,000 manufacturing jobs in the city were cut by National Cash Register, one of the area’s biggest employers, New Geography reported. And General Motors decreased its workforce by 8,000 between 1990 and 2008.
- 1969 Per capita income: $25,378
- 2016 Per capita income: $18,003
- 2016 Poverty rate: 36 percent
Cleveland has the second-highest poverty rate and the second-lowest median household income — $26,583 — of all of the cities included in this study. The poverty rate has increased 27 percent, and the median household income has decreased $5,808, from 1969 to 2016.
However, the city’s economy is finally showing signs of a turnaround, with new health-tech and high-tech companies planting roots in Cleveland, Forbes reported.
- 1969 Per capita income: $25,650
- 2016 Per capita income: $15,562
- 2016 Poverty rate: 39.4 percent
Detroit has experienced one of the largest drops in per capita income, median household income and population of all of the cities included in this study. It also experienced the highest rise in poverty rates, from 8.5 percent in 1969 to 39.4 percent in 2016 — which is also the highest poverty rate of all the cities.
Detroit was once a car and manufacturing giant, but in 2013, it became the largest city ever to file for bankruptcy, following the bankruptcy filings of Chrysler and GM, which were headquartered in the city. Although GM continues to be headquartered in Detroit, the city has been floundering economically.
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Why Cities Are Getting Poorer
Cities whose economies depended on manufacturing have taken a large hit since the manufacturing decline that began in 1969, and those cities tend to be clustered along the Rust Belt — a region that includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Exceptions to the geographic trend include Hartford, Conn.; Newark, N.J.; Trenton, N.J.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Providence, R.I.; and St. Louis. Almost all of the cities that are getting poorer are located in the Northeast.
Click to read about the cities that are getting richer.
Methodology: GOBankingRates determined which U.S. cities used to be poor and are now rich by analyzing 82 major cities in terms of the following factors: (1) per capita income in 1970, per capita income in 2016, and change over time; (2) median household income in 1970, median household income in 2016, and change over time; (3) population in 1970, 2016 and change over time; (4) poverty rate in 1970, 2016 and change over time, all sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau.
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