America's Geography of Opportunity

A new study presents the 'most detailed portrait yet' of the places in America where opportunities for, and obstacles to, upward mobility abound. The Southeast and industrial Midwest are the most difficult places to rise out of poverty.

"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," reports David Leonhardt. "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."

“Where you grow up matters,” said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the study’s authors. “There is tremendous variation across the U.S. in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.”

According to Leonhardt, "the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods."

"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."

The article includes fascinating interactive graphics that allow you to explore the report's findings.  


Full Story: In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters

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