A troubling new report summarizes the trends for upward mobility in the United States, and is summarized in The New York Times. Atlanta is the largest metropolitan city with the worst upward mobility, both for the black and white population in the city:
The study — based on millions of anonymous earnings records and being released this week by a team of top academic economists — is the first with enough data to compare upward mobility across metropolitan areas. These comparisons provide some of the most powerful evidence so far about the factors that seem to drive people’s chances of rising beyond the station of their birth, including education, family structure and the economic layout of metropolitan areas.
Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, 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.
Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.
Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers’ analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and black residents of Atlanta have low upward mobility, for instance.
The authors emphasize that their data allowed them to identify only correlation, not causation. Other economists said that future studies will be important for sorting through the patterns in this new data.
Still, earlier studies have already found that education and family structure have a large effect on the chances that children escape poverty. Other researchers, including the political scientist Robert D. Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone,” have previously argued that social connections play an important role in a community’s success. Income mobility has become one of the hottest topics in economics, as both liberals and conservatives have grown worried about diminished opportunities following more than a decade of disappointing economic growth. After years of focusing more on inequality at a moment in time, economists have more recently turned their attention to people’s paths over their lifetimes.
A child who grows up in a family making $50,000 annually (42nd percentile ) is likely to end up, on average, in the 43rd percentile of income at working age of 30. Click through the article and play with the data set in the middle of the article to see how your city compares.