Looking for the American dream? Here are the top 25 cities in America for upward mobility

Published: Monday, Jan. 13 2014 12:02 a.m. MST

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The Equality of Opportunity Project — a Harvard University research project headed up by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard, and Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley — ranks American cities according to the availability of the "American dream," which in this case, is indicated by opportunities for personal economic growth.

Complete with charts, summaries and an interactive map, the project concisely illustrates the impact of upward mobility.

The research is divided into two separate rankings: one to show the best cities for upward mobility in the top 100 metropolitan areas and another which ranks all commuting areas.

Each category rates an area’s mobility by a set of three criterion. The first is "absolute upward mobility," which is a measure of the average economic outcome of a child from a below-median income family. The second is what the researchers call "relative upward mobility." It measures the difference in incomes between a child from a low income family compared to a high income family in a given area.

Finally, there is the odds of reaching the top fifth starting from the bottom fifth, quantifying the percentage chance that a child will reach the top five percent.

As a basic summary of the survey's findings, we've compiled a list of the top 25 major metropolitan areas ranked for upward mobility.

  • Oldest first
  • Newest first
  • Most recommended
Sandy, UT

It is nice that the Salt Lake area provides upward mobility. However, another important factor is improvement in overall standard of living. Someone making it from the bottom 5th to the top 5th is part of the of the American dream. But it may mean that one or more people have had a bad time and moved down. Another factor is that the standard of living of the bottom 5th moves up as a whole to have jwhat the second 5th had a few years ago. That is why income disparity is a weak argument. If we become more productive and in 10 years the "poor" have what the middle class have today that is a good thing, even if the rich are even richer. You can reduce income inequality simply by taking away from the rich, but noone is better off.

boise, ID

Impressive! SLC should be leading the way for true conservatism in politics. and yet we see 'get along and go along'. The Old Gaurd, and we know who they are, should reconcille with the New Gaurdians of our constitution, so the rest of our great country could experience upward mobility.

A Quaker
Brooklyn, NY

I would encourage anyone who wants more details than this article gives, on the whys and wherefores, to click the link to the study's summary. One thing I don't see there is an analysis of the migration they hint at. The adult outcomes they measure are based on where that adult lived at age 16, not where they lived at the time of income measurement, at age 30, where the analysis picks them up again.

Another factor, again not fully analyzed, finds that areas with the highest percentage of whites have an advantage over those with lower percentages.

Also, note that their criteria are very focused. They're primarily looking from the middle (median income) to the top. They're not really measuring from the bottom up. In terms of setting poverty policy, it might be useful to measure results from the lowest quintile to the median. Or, are we just abandoning poor people to be repeated generations of poor?

Free, high-quality public educations were the original engine of American upward mobility. Let's never lose sight of that.

Salt Lake City, UT

I went to their website, looked at the top 5 areas for social mobility, at least according to the study: they are in order: Salt Lake City, San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego. As to the odds of a kid migrating from the bottom fifth to the top fifth, the top of this group is separated from the bottom by a mere 1.1%.

This a mixed bag of towns. According to the study these outcomes are loosely related to public finance, but other factors are at work. I think SLC ranks high because of a world class university (that be U of U), and the social capital internal to the LDS community. Note also, however, that this premier group are a very mixed bag as to dominant ideology - Salt Lake (hyper conservative ?) and Seattle (hyper leftist?).

boise, ID

Appreciate the ? after slc. look again, slc is not hyper conservative anymore. Utah county may be and Washington County still shows sigbs true conservatism.

Bountiful, UT

Looks like California is still by far the land of opportunity...

Orange County, CA

Looks like Madison is so upwardly mobile that Minneapolis gets Madison's skyline instead of its own!

Heidi T.
Farmington, UT

I agree with RBB. The money funded to certain areas of our country to target the poor by Mr. Obama supports the idea that giving money to politicians to distribute to the poor works to help the poor. What? Those identified areas, if looked at closely, are really targeted for campaign efforts in 2014.

Eureka, UT

I think people are confusing hyper conservative Utah with Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is represented by Democrats. I not saying that's a bad thing either. When you look at the things the city has to offer from the University of Utah to its diverse neighborhoods you can see that it has more in common with Madison, WI or even Seattle, WA then it does with some of its Utah neighbors like Bountiful or Provo. Yes, the LDS church is big in Salt Lake City but how many LDS people have fled the city to live in Sandy or Herriman, or Davis, Washington, or Utah County. Then there is the LGBT community in Salt Lake with many LDS people even supporting them as shown at the last two Gay Pride parades. Personally I think Salt Lake it number one in upward mobility because it is the liberal enclave for Utah not because it's the hyper conservative center.


Maybe SLC is highly rated in terms of upward mobility because people move from poorer parts of Utah to the big city where incomes are higher. Also, the is a strong culture of the importance of academics and a recent influx of high-paying jobs as companies have moved out of expensive areas in California.

Park City, Ut

I live in #11, but I'd take #7 any day of the week

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