Where a person lives in America matters a great deal in whether he or she can obtain economic mobility, according to a new study from a team of researchers out of Harvard and UC Berkeley.
David Leonhardt at the New York Times reported on the study, including some interactive graphics and maps demonstrating the study's findings. The study found that upward mobility occurs more often in the Northeast, Great Plains and the West. The chance that a child from Salt Lake City will move from the bottom fifth of the income ladder to the top fifth is 11.4 percent.
But a climb up the income ladder happens less often in the Southeast and parts of the Midwest. In cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, the chance that a child will move from the bottom fifth to the top fifth is around 4 percent.
Leonhardt pointed out some particularly striking numbers from the study. For example, on average, poor children from Seattle do as well financially when they become adults as middle-class children from Atlanta. Also, while the chances of moving up and out of poverty varied greatly across regions, the chances that a rich kid remains rich is broadly similar across geographic areas.
While being quick to note that correlation does not imply causation, the authors of the study cited a number of features shared by the geographic areas in which upward mobility occurred. Areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility, as did areas where the poor live in communities segregated from other income levels. Places with better primary and elementary schools tended to have higher levels of upward mobility. Areas with two-parent households, as well as a higher level of civic and religious involvement, were more likely to have upwardly mobile children.
The researchers also found little correlation between upward mobility and tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the rich, extreme wealth and college tuition rates.