July 23, 2013


In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters : A study finds the odds of rising to another income level are notably low in certain cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, and much higher in New York and Boston. (DAVID LEONHARDT, JULY 22, 2013, NY Times)
[T]he 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. [...]

Yet the parts of this country with the highest mobility rates -- like Pittsburgh, Seattle and Salt Lake City -- have rates roughly as high as those in Denmark and Norway, two countries at the top of the international mobility rankings. In areas like Atlanta and Memphis, by comparison, upward mobility appears to be substantially lower than in any other rich country, Mr. Chetty said.

Especially intriguing is the fact that children who moved at a young age from a low-mobility area to a high-mobility area did almost as well as those who spent their entire childhoods in a higher-mobility area. But children who moved as teenagers did less well.

That pattern makes economists more confident that the characteristics of different regions -- as opposed to something inherent and unchangeable in the local residents -- are helping cause the varying mobility rates. [...]

Lawrence Katz, a labor economist who did not work on the project, said he was struck by the fact that areas with high levels of income mobility were also those that established high school earliest and have long had strong school systems. Mr. Katz, a Harvard economist and former Clinton administration official, called the work "certainly the most comprehensive analysis of intergenerational mobility in the contemporary U.S."

The project's other researchers were Patrick Kline, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuel Saez, a Berkeley economist who won the Clark Medal in 2009.

The comparison of metropolitan areas allows researchers to consider local factors that previous mobility studies could not -- including a region's geography. And in Atlanta, the most common lament seems to be precisely that concentrated poverty, extensive traffic and a weak public-transit system make it difficult to get to the job opportunities. "When poor communities are segregated," said Cindia Cameron, an organizer for 9 to 5, a women's rights group, "everything about life is harder."

Posted by at July 23, 2013 5:20 AM

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