The disparity between cities and major towns across the UK is laid bare in a new report.
Almost a million jobs have been created in cities in recent years but average salaries have fallen by £1,300-a-year, according to research.
Centre for Cities said only one in four cities were delivering a “high wage, low welfare” economy.
The think tank’s study of 63 cities between 2010-14 found almost half were classified as having low wage, high welfare economies, including Hull, Blackburn, Blackpool, Mansfield and Sunderland.
At the other end of the scale, London, Reading, Aldershot, Aberdeen and Milton Keynes were among those with a high wage, low welfare economy.
Preston is rated low wage, low welfare.
Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said the report highlighted the size of the challenge facing the Government in building a high-wage, low-welfare economy.
“One of the most pressing issues is the need to tackle skills-gaps and improve schools attainment, especially in low-wage cities, to help those places attract businesses and jobs, and support more people to move into work, particularly in high-skill sectors.
“This should be a key part of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative alongside investment in infrastructure, and a top priority for local leaders.
“For cities which have seen strong growth in wages and jobs, the focus should be on addressing housing shortages.”
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Preston is a new city in relative terms and the results so far show there is still a long way to go.”