Study: City’s Economic Prosperity Varies Widely by Zip Code

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Courtesy / Economic Innovation Group

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Bexar County

In the 78207 zip code, an area just west of downtown San Antonio, nearly 48% of residents 25 years and older do not have a high school diploma, and the area’s poverty rate approaches 41%. By contrast, in 78248 on the city’s Northside, fewer than 3% of adults lack a diploma and the poverty rate is less than 3%.

This finding, among others, illustrates the magnitude of San Antonio’s economic segregation in a study published Monday by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG). The Distressed Communities Index (DCI), a nationwide study of economic vitality across the United States, reveals a story not unfamiliar to the residents of San Antonio: The city’s economic disparity is geographic, with wealth and greater economic activity concentrated along its northern boundary while neighborhoods in the urban core have markedly higher rates of poverty and unemployment.

The study used American Community Survey estimates to identify distressed communities based on measures including educational attainment, poverty, and joblessness. The data released by the U.S. Census Bureau compiles demographic and economic measures from 2011-2015 into five-year estimates.

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Cities

Economic Innovation Group

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Cities

The study ranked zip codes across several equally weighted metrics, including educational attainment, housing vacancy rate, the proportion of adults not working, poverty rate, median income, and change in the number of jobs and business establishments. Distress scores ranged from a low of 0 up to 100.

Sixteen zip codes in San Antonio rank in the 80th percentile of the nation’s most distressed communities. Zip codes 78208, just east of the Pearl, and 78207, capturing the majority of the urban Westside, scored in the 98th percentile of all zip codes analyzed in the study.

San Antonio has a relatively high number of families living in poverty, which the federal government defines as a family of four earning less than $24,600 annually. The DCI study found that poverty rates are high even in Northside neighborhoods, with some Northside areas ranging between 10% and 20%. Almost 41% of households in 78207 fall below the poverty line.

The study quantified the relative prosperity of the northern edge of San Antonio’s sprawling metropolis around Loop 1604. Northside zip codes such as 78248 and 78261, which experienced dramatic change along the 1604 commercial corridor in recent years, show as much as a 77% increase in the number of jobs since 2011. Meanwhile, zip codes such as 78201 and 78229 saw double-digit decreases in jobs in the last five years.

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Bexar County

Economic Innovation Group

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Bexar County

The study also examines changes in the number of business establishments, with more businesses opening in zip codes outside Loop 1604, such as 78261 and 78253. These areas also have some of the lowest residential vacancy rates in the city.

Vacancy rates, the percentage of habitable housing stock that is unoccupied, hover around 8% throughout San Antonio, which is slightly more than what’s considered healthy, according to Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

However, vacancy rates in San Antonio can reach nearly 20% in some Eastside neighborhoods, such as 78208. High vacancy rates are interpreted as a sign of a neighborhood’s cultural and economic disenfranchisement, according to the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. High numbers of vacant properties in a neighborhood often result in decreased public safety and dropping property values, symptoms experienced primarily on San Antonio’s Eastside and Southside neighborhoods.

The pattern of economic segregation in San Antonio mirrored that of other major cities in Texas, according to the study. Houston and Dallas show similar patterns in which neighborhoods ranked as prosperous by the DCI make a ring around concentrations of distressed communities in the urban core.

Austin, however, is the exception, with only one zip code ranking above the 70th percentile of distressed communities for the state.

21 thoughts on “Study: City’s Economic Prosperity Varies Widely by Zip Code

  1. Very helpful data. Thanks. I’ve presented similar information to the City Council, but this is newer, more complete, and more striking. It’s one of the top three issues facing the city.

  2. Yet, another report identifying the great divide in SA. Moved from Houston several months ago. There is virtually no diversity here making the socio-economic gap very stark between the two major groups of people.

    Despite the economics, it’s a very nice, clean, friendly city with great people and beautiful natural resources. Will Rogers named it one of the four most unique cities in the U. S.

    • Rios…..if you have not already and if you are able, take a bike ride through the neighborhood. You might just be surprise as to the diversity. I live in zip code 78207….yes….its poor district…but i see promise

      • I’ll go ahead and ruin the “surprise”, 78207 is about 90% Hispanic. That’s not very diverse. Why do so many people think diversity is defined as a anywhere with few white people? Houston is a very diverse city with a population comprised of people of many different nationalities, races, ethnicity, and cultures.

  3. Thank you Emily. It’s good for me, an average resident, to see the information in a more digestible way (looking at USPS Zip Codes, rather than city district or “Eastside”)

    I would like to see the “equity lens” budgeting concept at the state level, applying it to public education funding.

  4. I don’t think the city budget equity lens accounts for social disparities like those shown on the maps in this article. For example, the transportation money I think just gets spent based on how bad the roads and sidewalks are across different areas, not based on where bad roads/sidewalks overlap with socioeconomic distress. Can anyone who really knows weigh in? Can the Rivard Report do an article that digs into this?

    • In the 2018 budget only $35 million of the approximately $119 million allocated to streets, sidewalks and pedestrian expenditures was used to address street repair using an equity lens approach. The city (according to presentations and the budget summary) reviewed all the streets in SA and then these monies ($35 million) were assigned to fix streets with a rating of 70 or less.

      • yet where is the money for the education compared to the downtown repairs along with the buying out shops for the Alamo changes!

  5. I would hazard a guess that Austin’s better conditions may result from largely being an affluent, very well educated, younger average age, WASP city/metro area. And not 300 yrs. old. I have long thought that education is probably the main issue affecting SA’s economic status in the metro area. With 17 different School Districts having 17 highly paid Supts, Assists., staff, personnel depts., purchasing depts., busing, training, etc. too much money is wasted on duplication of services. Not to mention that many of the districts cannot compete with the northside district’s tax income and attractiveness of facilities for teachers/administrators. I have lived in states with only ONE school district per county – a much more sensible plan for the taxpayers and especially for the students and teachers – equity of resources. Think about it, makes no sense to have all those competing school districts also affecting property values=taxes and business investment.

    • PS – one important fact Emily and readers………… even if the state should come to its senses on school districts = 1 per county, and other issues – there are ALWAYS going to be economically depressed areas and affluent areas – that is the nature of man. But we can do some things to challenge that somewhat and to make all public schools more equal and the benefit to the poor land/home taxed citizen more apparent.

  6. I dont understand how you can call this “economic segregation”. Those areas that have alot of people who chose not to finish high school have less jobs and higher unemployment and poverty in thier areas. This should suprise no one. However, no one made them stop going to school, that is what they chose for themselves, so they can now reap what they have sown. I feel like it is unfair to call this segregation, as it is not enforced. People of a feather flock together. Why would you expect an area with a bunch of dropouts to be a prosperous as an area where people have education and drive to succeed?

    • People don’t come into this world choosing their economic status, if we would build up each other to make a change to give people opportunities than maybe the 78207 will be a prosperous area with Education!

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