A new study, entitled Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States , from researchers at Harvard University and UC-Berkeley examines income mobility across the United States. They draw data from de-identified federal tax records for 40 million parents and their children. The study compares family income recorded between 1996 and 2000 to the income level of adult children in 2011 and 2012. The researchers identify five characteristics of geographic areas that strongly correlate with increased opportunities for economic mobility: less racial segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital, and more stable families.
The analysis compares income mobility across 741 commuting zones (CZs) in the United States. Commuting zones are aggregations of counties, including rural areas. A great deal of variation was observed across the country. For example, children born in San Jose (CA) to parents falling into the bottom fifth income bracket had a 12.9% chance of reaching the top fifth income bracket as an adult, while children from Charlotte (NC) had only a 4.4% chance of making it to the top. Overall, the probability of moving from the bottom quintile to top quintile in the U.S. is 7.8%.
The researchers explored the possible factors contributing to lower levels of mobility in certain parts of the country. Opportunities for mobility were found to be highest in the Mountain West, and lowest in the South. Upward income mobility remains persistently low in areas with larger African American populations, for residents of all races. Overall, areas with high levels of racial segregation and income inequality have particularly low levels of economic mobility. Future research will further examine public policies that could lead to increased income mobility.
Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States can be found at: http://bit.ly/1dG9BiH
The Equality of Opportunity Project website, featuring downloadable data and interactive maps, can be accessed at: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/