Gene Blythe, Associated Press
Centennial Place apartments shown Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005, has replaced the former Techwood Homes area just north of the downtown Atlanta area. It was part of a program aimed at tearing down the worst projects and recreating mixed-income neghborhoods, the first step in combating poverty. (AP Photo/Gene Blythe)

Research says it's much harder for people in some geographic areas to climb the income ladder from poverty into the middle class than it is in others. A child in Atlanta, for instance, may not be able to escape poverty as easily as someone living in Salt Lake City or New York City.

Looking at millions of anonymous earnings records, a team of top academic economists in the Equality of Opportunity Project compared upward mobility in different communities. Noted the New York Times, "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."

The climb is much harder in the Southeast and the industrial Midwest. The researchers found the odds are not with someone trying to escape poverty in certain cities, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. The move is much better in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, "including New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota," according to the Times report.

Of the 50 largest metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City leads the way, with an 11.5 percent chance of climbing from the bottom fifth up to the top fifth in terms of income. In Atlanta, which came in dead last, there's just a 4 percent chance.

"Some areas have rates of upward mobility comparable to the most mobile countries in the world while others have lower rates of mobility than any developed country for which data are currently available. These geographical differences are modestly correlated with variation in tax expenditure policies across areas. But much variation in children's success across areas remains to be explained, potentially by factors such as income segregation, school quality, or social capital," the researchers said.

One of them, Nathaniel Hendren, told the Times that the variation is not caused simply by areas having higher average incomes. Upward mobility rates can differ significantly in areas where the average income is similar.

To map it, researchers looked at the experience of children who are now about 30 and their parents' income, translated into today's dollars, from the late 1990s. The Times has an interactive map so that readers can look at their own communities and see what the climb into a richer life might look like.

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