Dallas Is Still the Hole in the DFW Economic Doughnut

The big splotches of red in the middle are Dallas and Fort Worth.
The big splotches of red in the middle are Dallas and Fort Worth.

Dallas, thank goodness, is not Cleveland or Detroit. Its economy and identity have never had the Rust Belt dependence on manufacturing, and so it hasn't been hollowed out by American manufacturing's collapse. But make no mistake. Even though the Dallas area's population and economy are both famously booming, the city itself has hollowed out. If anyone needed a reminder, a D.C.-based outfit called the Economic Innovation Group issued a report and interactive map giving a ZIP code by ZIP code breakdown of the country's economic health.

The metric the report's authors invented for the task is called the Distressed Communities Index, which assigns a score of 0 (least distressed) to 100 (most distressed) to each ZIP code based on the percentage of adults who lack a high school degree; the percentage of adults who don't have a job; the percentage of housing units that are vacant; the poverty rate; the change in the number of jobs and businesses between 2010 and 2013; and median income.

Dallas suburbs have boomed at the expense of the inner city.EXPAND
Dallas suburbs have boomed at the expense of the inner city.
Andreas Praefke

Dallas' most distressed ZIP code by this measure, scoring a 99.8, is 75210 in South Dallas. The city's second most distressed ZIP code, scoring a 99.4, is 75215, also in South Dallas. Remarkably, neither ZIP cracks the top 40 nationally, coming in at No. 42 and No. 152, respectively.

Frisco's 75035 ZIP Code has a score of 0; Allen's 75013 is .1; Keller's 76244 and North Richland Hills' 75182 both have scores of .2. Looking at municipal boundaries rather than ZIP codes, the report finds that North Texas has the three least distressed communities in the country, with Flower Mound, Allen and Frisco out-exurbing every other city in the country.

Visually Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington are a big reddish hole in a green doughnut, albeit with the bottom right chunk of the doughnut swept away where the Trinity River makes its sluggish exit toward the Gulf.

The spacial distribution of prosperity is not particularly surprising. It's the predictable result of decades of transportation, land use, education and countless other policies that have subsidized the middle class and upwardly mobile as they've fled to schools and subdivisions free from the taint of the inner city. The report singles out the Houston area, where the doughnut effect is even more visually evident, but the description applies equally well to Dallas and other Sun Belt cities:

A flourishing periphery surrounds a deeply distressed core. As the prospering frontiers pull people and businesses ever outward, economic activity attenuates in the wake. Distress sets in, and the people left behind in these communities must travel greater distances to find economic opportunity. 


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