Just Thinking

Phoenix Has Monopoly On High-Income Districts

by Richard Gilman

If you’re okay living hand to mouth, settle wherever in the state you’d like.  If you’re looking to strike it rich, pack up the car and head to Phoenix.

That’s where the fat cats are, although not just anywhere in the Valley of the Sun.   They’re clustered together in four distinct areas.

Meanwhile, the bulk of households in the state bring home a heck of a lot less.  Those folks are spread all over the state.   And, young man beware, that includes across large swaths of Phoenix.

The median household income of the median census tract in the state is $49,147.  The comparable figures in neighboring states are $58,900 in Utah, $56,699 in Colorado and $56,473 in Nevada.  Only New Mexico is lower at $44,181.

How Arizona Compares

The Poor, the Rich, the In-Between

County-by-County Breakdown

Obviously “median” tells us only the midpoint.   Given all the attention being paid to how income is becoming more and more lopsided in favor of the rich, we have to consider what’s happening on either side of the midpoint.  If you were to draw a picture of income distribution in the state, you’d come up with a beast that has a big, fat rump and a long, pointed snout.

Thinking Arizona graphic by Tony Bustos

The long, pointed snout are those upper income brackets.

According to a report earlier this year from the Census Bureau, 4.6 percent of Phoenix households rank among the nation’s highest strata of income.

Of Arizona’s 1,509 census tracts, two have median household income above $200,000.  Five tracts have median incomes above $150,000.  Nineteen are above $125,000.  And 66 others are above $100,000.  Together, those well-to-do areas represent just 6 percent of all the census tracts in the state.

The top 18 of them are located exclusively in the aforementioned four areas:  Paradise Valley, northeast Scottsdale, the southern fringes of Chandler, and a few households scalloped along the edges of South Mountain Park.  The “poorest” of these neighborhoods has a median income of $130,000.

This rarified air is breathed by the few and not the many.  Arizona’s disparity between high and low incomes in the second worst of all the states, according to a report issued last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that focuses on issues affecting those of low and moderate income.

By comparison with Maricopa, the rest of the state scales downward:

  • Pima County has one census tract barely over $125,000, five others that break $100,000.
  • Cochise, Coconino, Pinal and Yuma have a few census tracts that break $75,000.
  • Graham, Greenlee, Mohave, Navajo, Santa Cruz and Yavapai have a few census tracts – in several of their cases, only one – that break $50,000.
  • Apache, Gila and La Paz don’t have even that.  They’re made up entirely of census tracts where the median household income is below $50,000.

Arizona’s Economic Gravity

In fact, all counties other than Maricopa are predominated by lower-income tracts.  The state is heavily weighted with 688 census tracts that have median household income somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000.  They make up the big, fat rump of the beast.  Another 83 census tracts tail off even lower, with median income below $25,000.

The state’s economy unmistakably revolves around the Valley of the Sun.  Maricopa, with 60 percent of the state’s population and 60 percent of the households, has 65 percent of the state income.  The county-wide median household income is $56,400 – far greater than any other county.

Clearly Maricopa has more jobs, more of which are high-paying, but even it is not immune to the forces of gravity.

For while Phoenix boasts the highest-earning census tracts in the state, it also is home to the lowest.  The state’s two poorest census tracts – including the only one in the state with median household income below $10,000 – are within walking distance of downtown.  Five other Phoenix census tracts are also among the bottom ten in the state.

The ranks of the lower paid don’t stop there.  Maricopa is heavily represented in the rump of the beast.  Of its 906 census tracts, the median income in 34 – including the seven mentioned in the previous paragraph –is below $25,000,  In 336 others, the median is below $50,000.

So prospective movers beware.  Yes, Phoenix has the big bucks. That doesn’t mean everyone shares in them.

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