An exhaustive new study finds that economic mobility is not dead in America, but it matters where you live. The Southeast, as well as parts of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan perform badly, as this map shows. But certain cities and regions do much better at enabling intergenerational mobility, according to researchers from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. As the New York Times‘ David Leonhardt writes,
Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows [sic], with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.
Indeed, the study found that children here who grew up in the relatively poor 25th percentile of national income distribution enjoy the same financial performance as adults as middle-class children (the 50th percentile) who grew up in Atlanta. And while race does matter, both white and black residents of Atlanta have lower economic mobility.
In seeking to explain the differences that help ensure more success, the researchers pointed to such factors as poor families being dispersed in middle-income neighborhoods, places with good civic engagements, two-parent households and better schools. Especially critical is a metro area not having too much “job sprawl,” so workers from all income levels can easily reach employment centers. Atlanta suffers from severe job sprawl even though it has a strong economy. The NYT has a comparative interactive map that is worth your time.
So far, pretty good. But we also know the phenomenon of “the two Washingtons.” The state’s graduation rate for the 2010-2011 school year was a middling 76 percent, and 66 percent for the economically disadvantaged. According to the authoritative Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Washington ranked 16th among the states for children in poverty. Not bad, if your benchmark is No. 45 South Carolina (28 percent) or No. 50 Mississippi (32 percent). But 18 percent of Washington’s children are living in poverty.
So this new report provides some welcome news. But much work remains, even here, and especially in an economy that doesn’t provide the ladders into the middle class that once existed.
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Today’s Econ Haiku:
Lovely until the heat hits
Say, at Microsoft