The progress seen in the national averages is tempered by regional differences.
Although education levels and occupational status improved at about the same rate in all
parts of the country, other indicators show a varied picture: a surprising comeback in the
Midwest, big gains in the South, a disappointing performance in the Northeast, and a mixed
situation in the West.
Table 1 reports this pattern clearly. The MPI increased the most in the Midwest, which is
now more prosperous than any other region. The Midwest had the largest gains in per capita
income (+$3,672) and median income (+$4,351), and the greatest drop in poverty (down
nearly 1.5%). This marks an unexpected rebound in a part of the country that was battered
by deindustrialization in the 1970s and 1980s. It is also an indicator that
the economies of older Rustbelt cities are now more diversified.
The South also surpassed the national average increase in the MPI, though not performing
quite as well as the Midwest. Yet despite recent improvements the South is still catching
up to the rest of the nation. It still has the lowest average value on the MPI and the
lowest incomes (though its poverty rate is now slightly below that of the West).
The performance of the Northeast is disturbing. Though it began the 1990s with the
highest values on the MPI, its improvement lagged the national average on most indicators.
Poverty actually increased despite modest gains in per capita and median income,
suggesting an economic performance that could not improve the circumstances of people at
The West also lagged behind the national average, and both poverty and unemployment moved
upward in this region. However, the regional average is somewhat misleading, because it is
pulled down by metro areas in Southern and Central California.
Prosperity in the 50 Largest Metropolitan Areas
Table 2 shows how the nations largest 50 metro areas fared in the decade. It ranks
them from highest to lowest in overall economic health, based on the Mumford Prosperity
Index, and also shows how their ranking changed since 1990.
The most startling improvement was in Detroit. On the MPI, Detroit ranked only #36 of the
largest 50 metro areas in 1990, but climbed to #21 in 2000 - ahead of places like
Charlotte and San Diego. Even Detroits central city improved dramatically, though it
still suffers from high poverty and unemployment.