Reinforcing a major election theme that helped President Donald Trump capture the White House, a report released Monday shows that prosperity in the United States is concentrated in certain geographic areas, but economic stability outside of those areas is rapidly deteriorating.
"Economic inequality in America translates into opportunity gaps for too many communities," said Steve Glickman, executive director of the Economic Innovation Group, an advocacy organization which tries to advance solutions for a more dynamic economy. "Unless policymakers in both parties reframe their priorities, economically distressed communities will continue to experience a downward spiral that results in a loss of faith in the American dream and less healthy and fulfilling lives."
The study, which measured the economy by zip codes and congressional districts through 2015, evaluates the link between a community's prosperity and a number of important factors, including health, and demonstrates that a large part of the country is being left behind.
Illustrating this divide, the report shows that a sixth of the population, 52.3 million Americans, live in a distressed community. In the average distressed zip code, more than 25 percent are in poverty, 40 percent of prime age adults are out of the workforce, and nearly a quarter don't even have a high school diploma. Most of the distressed areas have seen a net loss in employment or business establishments in the past 15 years.
More than half of the recovery's new jobs and business establishments occurred in the prosperous zip codes from 2011 to 2015, even though only about 27 percent of the population, or 84 million people, live in those areas. The poverty rate is also more than 20 percentage points lower in these communities than in the average distressed one.
The report finds a clear link to an area's economic situation and health, as people in distressed areas have a lower life expectancy by nearly five years than those in prosperous regions.
Economic Innovation Group senior director for policy and strategy John Lettieri stressed that "These findings underscore just how badly we are limiting our national potential. There is a huge social and economic cost to leaving so many people and places behind."