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In 2016, A Close Up Look at Our Inner Cities

Written by Liz Holden

Although ICIC’s offices are located in the vibrant inner city Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, we are a national organization. Since our founding in 1994, we have worked in cities across the U.S. to conduct research, support job-creating businesses and host events to share ideas and best practices. We’ve had the privilege to build networks, convene community and business leaders and contribute to important economic transformations.

In 2016, through a new campaign, City Close Up, we’ll revisit those efforts and highlight the forces currently shaping those inner cities.

Beginning in February with Detroit, we’ll focus on a different city each month. Throughout the month, our blog posts will highlight our past work in the featured city, showcase some of the businesses that are creating jobs and strengthening inner city economies and share insights on the economic forces impacting those inner cities.

This month, we’re providing a closer look at inner cities across the U.S.

What is an inner city?

There are 328 inner cities in U.S. cities with over 75,000 people.

The infographic above, which we created in 2014, provides a look at inner cities and how we define them. ICIC defines an inner city as a geographic area with a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher OR a poverty rate that is 1.5 times higher than the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and an unemployment rate that is 1.5 times higher than the MSA and/or a median household income 50 percent or less than the MSA. We exclude student populations, which can skew poverty measures.

Although inner cities comprise less than one percent of U.S. land area, 10 percent of Americans live in an inner city.

Inner cities are spread across the U.S. The states with the largest numbers of inner cities are:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Illinois

Only six states do not contain at least one inner city:

  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

The cities with the largest inner city populations are:

  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Philadelphia

Inner cities make up a disproportionate share of U.S. poverty, and they are widespread throughout the country. In 2016, we look forward to showcasing 11 of them.

2016, of course, also means a presidential election, and one in which urban poverty has not yet been made a central issue. City Close Up is another way for ICIC to continue to carry on the crucial conversations we’ve been having for over two decades. Join this conversation on Twitter: @icicorg and using #citycloseup.


ICIC drives inclusive economic prosperity in under-resourced communities through innovative research and programs to create jobs, income, and wealth for local residents.


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