The Distressed Communities Index Map for Bexar County Credit: Courtesy / Economic Innovation Group

In the 78207 zip code, an area just west of downtown San Antonio, nearly 48% of residents 25 years and older do not have a high school diploma, and the area’s poverty rate approaches 41%. By contrast, in 78248 on the city’s Northside, fewer than 3% of adults lack a diploma and the poverty rate is less than 3%.

This finding, among others, illustrates the magnitude of San Antonio’s economic segregation in a study published Monday by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG). The Distressed Communities Index (DCI), a nationwide study of economic vitality across the United States, reveals a story not unfamiliar to the residents of San Antonio: The city’s economic disparity is geographic, with wealth and greater economic activity concentrated along its northern boundary while neighborhoods in the urban core have markedly higher rates of poverty and unemployment.

The study used American Community Survey estimates to identify distressed communities based on measures including educational attainment, poverty, and joblessness. The data released by the U.S. Census Bureau compiles demographic and economic measures from 2011-2015 into five-year estimates.

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Cities
The Distressed Communities Index Map for Cities Credit: Economic Innovation Group

The study ranked zip codes across several equally weighted metrics, including educational attainment, housing vacancy rate, the proportion of adults not working, poverty rate, median income, and change in the number of jobs and business establishments. Distress scores ranged from a low of 0 up to 100.

Sixteen zip codes in San Antonio rank in the 80th percentile of the nation’s most distressed communities. Zip codes 78208, just east of the Pearl, and 78207, capturing the majority of the urban Westside, scored in the 98th percentile of all zip codes analyzed in the study.

San Antonio has a relatively high number of families living in poverty, which the federal government defines as a family of four earning less than $24,600 annually. The DCI study found that poverty rates are high even in Northside neighborhoods, with some Northside areas ranging between 10% and 20%. Almost 41% of households in 78207 fall below the poverty line.

The study quantified the relative prosperity of the northern edge of San Antonio’s sprawling metropolis around Loop 1604. Northside zip codes such as 78248 and 78261, which experienced dramatic change along the 1604 commercial corridor in recent years, show as much as a 77% increase in the number of jobs since 2011. Meanwhile, zip codes such as 78201 and 78229 saw double-digit decreases in jobs in the last five years.

The Distressed Communities Index Map for Bexar County
The Distressed Communities Index Map for Bexar County Credit: Economic Innovation Group

The study also examines changes in the number of business establishments, with more businesses opening in zip codes outside Loop 1604, such as 78261 and 78253. These areas also have some of the lowest residential vacancy rates in the city.

Vacancy rates, the percentage of habitable housing stock that is unoccupied, hover around 8% throughout San Antonio, which is slightly more than what’s considered healthy, according to Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

However, vacancy rates in San Antonio can reach nearly 20% in some Eastside neighborhoods, such as 78208. High vacancy rates are interpreted as a sign of a neighborhood’s cultural and economic disenfranchisement, according to the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. High numbers of vacant properties in a neighborhood often result in decreased public safety and dropping property values, symptoms experienced primarily on San Antonio’s Eastside and Southside neighborhoods.

The pattern of economic segregation in San Antonio mirrored that of other major cities in Texas, according to the study. Houston and Dallas show similar patterns in which neighborhoods ranked as prosperous by the DCI make a ring around concentrations of distressed communities in the urban core.

Austin, however, is the exception, with only one zip code ranking above the 70th percentile of distressed communities for the state.

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.