Recent studies show that San Antonio ranks at, or near, the top of for geographic income inequality. (SBG San Antonio)
This is part of the"Inequality: San Antonio’s Silent Crisis" special . It also features city leaders, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, discussing the issues and solutions to level the economic playing field.
SAN ANTONIO – In recent years, San Antonio has earned a distinction nobody wants: we’ve been at, or near, the top of the list in multiple studies when it comes to geographic income inequality.
Simply put: the gap between the richest zip code, 78248 on the north side, and the poorest, 78208 on the east side, is among the widest compared to other major metropolitan areas nationwide.
Last year, the widest gap was between 78258, also on the north side, and 78207 on the west side.
“We’re becoming a country, in some sense, that your destiny is defined by your zip code,” says Steve Glickman with Economic Innovation Group, the think tank behind the latest study.
The EIG study found more than 400,000 people in San Antonio are living in distressed communities.
While this is a proud, strong, vital city within the state and nation, the data shows us something we have to face if we want to improve the quality of life for all our residents: we are an economically segregated city.
San Antonio’s highways take you from one extreme to another: neighborhoods just a 30-minute drive away, yet worlds apart.
Our journey begins before dawn on the city’s west side. Ignacia Cruz is an immigrant mother of four, up early to pack lunch and get her youngest son off to school.
Every morning as they walk to the school bus, they pass a home where days before, someone was shot.
"Right there on the corner,” Cruz points out the home.
She makes sure her nine-year-old son gets on the bus and stays there.
"I think the schools need more support over here,” Cruz says.
She lives in the 78207 zip code, where nearly half of adults don’t have a high school diploma. Cruz does, earned soon after she arrived from Mexico.
"I started working in a daycare,” Cruz remembers. “Then I was having two jobs in the daycare and a fry fish as a cook."
Money is a constant concern. The median annual income in her neighborhood is $22,600.
"[City leaders] don’t pay attention to this side, to the west side,” Cruz says. "There’s a lot of homeless people. I think a lot of people complain about lights on the street and we never get it. And then we see on the other side of the town, they say we need lights over here and they put them there right away."
She does own her own home, and has big dreams for her kids.
"My dreams [for them] are to finish high school, be a professional,” Cruz says.
But for her, the American Dream still seems out of reach.
"I haven’t had it yet,” Cruz says wistfully. “But I think I’m going to make it,” her face broadening into a smile. “I need time."
Last year, the EIG study showed her neighborhood was the most distressed in San Antonio. This year, the distinction’s moved to the city’s east side.
"I work here. Top of the Line Barber Shop,” Casey George says.
Between haircuts, he reads a neighborhood newspaper featuring San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich.
"You know, I’m a Spurs fan,” George says.
Coach Pop’s recent comments on white privilege hit home in the mostly minority area.
"It is a disparity, as far as fund allocation throughout the city. And we do suffer on that end,” George says. "Every other block, I hit a pothole. I make a left to get on I-35 off of New Braunfels for the last 12 years. It’s the same pothole. It’s never been fixed."
The east side’s gang violence makes headlines, and makes it hard for parents like George to keep their kids out of trouble.
"A challenge. A challenge because you want to steer them clear from any trouble. Because on this side of town, trouble is easy to get into,” he says. "As far as the violence goes, [city leaders know where it’s at. Police those areas and make it safe for people to walk down the streets in their own neighborhood."
Next to his barber station hangs a rally towel from Sam Houston High School, his alma mater.
"The teachers need some more help, I know that. Some more funding,” George says. "I travel the city so I see other schools and I see some schools that look like malls. That’s how big they are."
But the east side is home, and George wants the best for his five kids, including a son in the Marines.
"The American Dream,” George says. “Own a home, raise a family, go to work and retire."
Meantime on San Antonio’s north side, long the more affluent part of town, unprecedented growth in the Stone Oak area has made the gap between rich and poor even wider.
“Marshall is 14 months,” mother Marylou Allan says as her toddler navigates the equipment in The Little Gym. "They set up different classes for his age range."
She’s moving to San Antonio and handpicked the neighborhood for its amenities.
"In most of the schools within the Stone Oak area are rated, if you go onto Realtor.com, most of them are rated nines, tens,” Allan says. "All the parks are always really nice, even within the subdivisions. Everything’s really clean. The HOAs are always right on top of it. It’s safe for me to ride around the sidewalks with Marshall."
Violent crime in the area is low. The median annual income is $107,500. But the flip side of better schools and safer streets: Allan will pay a lot more in taxes.
"Anything and everything for our kids. We’ve sacrificed everything for them,” she says. "I just hope that he’s able to get a good education and push through. I want him to kind of follow his dreams. Do whatever he wants to do."
Parents from every part of town want the best for their kids, and they define it the same way: a good education and to succeed. But disparity comes at a price.
"The community that surrounds this congregation is a community that has been struggling for many, many, many years,” says Pastor Rob Mueller from Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the west side.
The people who fill the pews every Sunday are mostly trade workers and immigrants who work paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes, you’ll find the success story.
"I grew up playing basketball right down the street here,” says Oscar Chacon, who recently graduated from college. "I got my bachelors in psychology and my minor in criminal justice."
He succeeded with the help of church’s after-school program.
"I know I made my parents proud by being the first in my family to go to college and graduate,” Chacon says.
But staying put and falling through the cracks is all too common, as the pastor found with another neighborhood kid.
"He was delinquent,” Pastor Mueller explains. “He tried to set a fire at the back of the church. We engaged. We tried to work with him. He comes from a family that is historically dealing narcotics."
The boy was involved in a shooting the day before we sat down with the pastor.
"He represents kind of the other end of the spectrum,” Pastor Mueller says.
Disparity in one part of town impacts the whole city. It leads to segregated neighborhoods, unequal infrastructure and more expensive health care.
"I would invite my sisters and brothers who live on that other part of town to say hey, there is a responsibility here to take care of these children, these families, who are dreaming the same kinds of dreams your kids dream,” Pastor Mueller says.
He holds his hands mere inches apart. “But [these children] only have this many options in front of them,” Pastor Mueller explains. He then extends his arms outward. “When your kids have this many,” he demonstrates the disparity.
A sign the city is ready to confront this silent crisis: recently, leaders renamed the Diversity and Inclusion Office to the first-ever Office of Equity. They also appointed the first-ever Chief Equity Officer, Kiran Bains.
“Equity means fairness and delivering services and a budget that is based on need,” Bains says. “Equity, then, is different than equality, which means sameness.”