Less than two months after the first protesters set up camp in New York's Zuccotti Park, the Occupy movement has seemingly spread to every corner of the United States, from McAllen, Texas, to Duluth, Minn. The movement has even spurred protests in some small towns, far removed from Wall Street's skyscrapers and billionaire CEOs.
Clearly, Occupy has had little trouble in catching on. But given the movement's goals and characteristics, data suggest that some cities are particularly appropriate places for the Occupy movement to take hold. These metro areas have large proportions of younger adults—arguably the driving force behind the Occupy movement—as well as high income inequality and strong ties to the finance industry—both of which are key issues taken up by occupiers.
According to Census data, the metropolitan areas that best exemplify these traits include some of the Occupy movement's biggest hotspots: New York City, San Francisco, and Boston,, for example. But the list also includes a few smaller metropolitan areas, whose young populations and large workforces in finance, insurance, and real estate also put them among Occupy's more prominent centers of action. Charlotte, N.C., is home to Bank of America's headquarters. Tallahassee, meanwhile, has a very young population and high inequality.
Cities with many young people, and students in particular, are particularly conducive to Occupy protests, says Arthur Blaustein, professor of community development, public policy, and politics at the University of California-Berkeley. "I can tell you, students are scared to death about going out into the world to get a job. ... They've got debt from their loans, and they don't see a very good job picture. So cities where there are universities are cities where there's going to be people turning out."
The ranking takes into account the percentage of a city's workforce employed in the so-called FIRE industry (finance, insurance, and real estate), the share of the population made up by young adults, and the city's Gini coefficient, a figure that measures income inequality on a scale of 0 to 1, with 1 representing total inequality.
These are the metropolitan areas (population 250,000 or greater) with the greatest combination of income inequality, share of workforce in FIRE occupations, and young adults, making them the best places to occupy.
|Metro Area||Gini||Population Age 20-34 (%)||Workforce in Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (%)|
|New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa. Metro Area||0.501||21.0||9.6|
|Tallahassee, Fla. Metro Area||0.503||27.4||6.1|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. Metro Area||0.483||22.3||7.0|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif. Metro Area||0.472||21.4||7.8|
|Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H. Metro Area||0.473||21.0||8.3|
|Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, N.C.-S.C. Metro Area||0.467||20.8||10.3|
|Columbus, Ohio Metro Area||0.455||22.2||9.6|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas Metro Area||0.459||21.6||9.2|
|Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas Metro Area||0.461||25.5||6.6|
|Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill.-Ind.-Wis. Metro Area||0.467||21.1||7.7|
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey 2010
While every U.S. city has its own unique culture, and though the Occupy movement seems to be tackling many disparate issues at once, the protests' underlying messages have been consistent, says Jeannette Castillo, assistant professor in the School of Communication at Florida State University. "It's pretty surprisingly uniform in a way. In past protests that were progressive protests, you would see this huge disparity [of issues]," she says. "They're tying it all together in the form of income injustice. They tie in defense spending and the wars, [but] they're tying it all back to the economy."
She adds, however, that crucial and unquantifiable factors also make a city ripe for Occupy protests. One key factor is the local political climate. "If the politicians look like they're blatantly on the side of corporations instead of working people, I think that's triggering the protests as well," she says, pointing to Wisconsin as an example. Madison's Occupy protest, she says, has seen substantial support, which may be fueled in part by frustration with Gov. Scott Walker, whose recent clashes with public sector unions exacerbated partisan divisions and led to thousands of people protesting both outside and inside the state capitol building.
One other key factor could soon affect Occupy's presence in many cities: winter. Months of cold weather could greatly affect Occupy's strength in northern cities, says Blaustein. However, the movement's resolve may prove stronger than the weather; many protesters in Providence, Boston, and New York City all stayed put through a recent snowstorm.