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What it means to be rich in cities across the country

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(Bloomberg) — There are several ways to measure the growing U.S. wealth gap, but almost any way you look at it, the rich are getting richer.

Of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the Bridgeport, Conn., metro, which includes nearby Stamford and Norwalk, has the largest gap between rich and poor, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg ranked cities on the difference between the top 20 percent of wage earners and the bottom 20 percent, in average household income. In 2014 that gap in the Bridgeport area was $397,500 a year. San Jose ranks second.

The technology-fueled wealth gap in San Jose is expanding faster than the Wall Street-supported wealth gap in Connecticut’s toniest suburbs. The rich-to-poor gap increased by $40,700 in the Silicon Valley hub from 2008 to 2014. While Bridgeport was among the 93 of 100 metros that saw their wealthgap expand, it didn’t make the top 10 when ranked by growth of the wealth gap over that six-year period.

If you live near Bridgeport, it may be hard to tell who is in the middle class. Households in the 30th percentile of income levels and those in the 80th percentile are both considered middle class, but the amount they’re bringing in each year differs by a whopping $143,700 in this Connecticut region, the data show.

The wide range of middle-class incomes in San Jose used to be far narrower; the gulf between the top and bottom middle-class earners there widened more than that of any other metro from 2008 to 2014, Bloomberg data show.

The distance in San Jose between the middle class and those at the top of the class ladder is also great. The gap between the middle class and the super-rich expanded by $74,500 in the past six years, three times the national increase. The middle 20 percent of wage earners in San Jose made $451,500 less, on average, than the top 5 percent. 

And while Bridgeport has the biggest gap between the middle class and super rich, that gap has actually shrunk by $1,200 in the past six years. It has increased in 77 of the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas.

McAllen, Texas, has the smallest rich-to-poor gap among the largest U.S. metro areas, and the gap grew less than 1 percent over the past six years, according to Bloomberg data. In this coastal city, the poorest residents are likely to see their wealthiest compatriots shopping in one of the city’s three Walmart stores. To shop at upper-middle-class staple Whole Foods, McAllen residents would have to drive more than three hours to San Antonio.

In the 10 cities with the smallest income gap, the difference between rich and poor is growing more slowly than in the country as a whole, except in Lakeland, Fla., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C., where the gap has actually shrunk since 2008.