Summary of The Geography of Prosperity

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Income inequality receives a good deal of attention in the media and in academic studies, but geographic inequality – the lesser-known concept that economic opportunity is tied to the place in which a person lives – is just as notable. The Brookings Institution’s Ryan Nunn, Jana Parsons and Jay Shambaugh look into what makes some places in the United States flourish while others lag. Policy experts, economists and anyone interested in exploring inequity through the lens of geography will find that this insightful report sheds new light on a much-debated issue.

About the Authors

Ryan NunnJana Parsons and Jay Shambaugh are economists at the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project. 



Americans face different economic prospects based on where they live, a correlation as important to consider as differences in education, income and wealth. The top 20% of US counties have more than double the median family income of the bottom 20%.

A “Vitality Index” measures the welfare of different places based on economic inputs that include life expectancies and housing vacancies. The index reveals that, in 2016, urban areas on both coasts, along with the northern Midwest and the Great Plains, were all at the forefront. Vast regions of the South, the Southwest and the southern...

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