Study finds some areas provide little upward mobility - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Rags to rags: Southeast, Midwest worst areas for poor to advance

(RNN) - Climbing the economic ladder in this country is more of a dream than reality for some, and a new study revealed that depends a lot on where poor people live.

Cities like Memphis and Atlanta and other major metropolitan areas in the same geographic region are the least likely places for poor children to ascend to the top income brackets in adulthood.

Economics professors from Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley recently released findings from the study. It explored the effects of tax expenditures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and other social factors such as family structure, school systems and neighborhood demographics.

Memphis is the U.S. city with the worst economic mobility for poor children, according to the research. In this particular case, the effect worked both ways - only 31 percent of children born into the top 20 percent of income were expected to remain there into adulthood.

The New York Times used the data to compile its own map, which found west Georgia and west Mississippi were the two largest areas affected by this problem.

Despite being one of the most affluent cities in the country, Atlanta has one of the most severe disparities in economic opportunity. Only 4 percent of poor children were expected to reach the top 20 percent of earners by adulthood.

Close to half of families in Greenville, MS, are headed by single mothers, and the test scores of elementary and middle students there are among the worst in the country.

Although Auburn, AL, has one of the nation's lowest high school dropout rates, children born into poverty have only a 3.6 percent chance of moving into a higher economic percentile. Nearly one-third of family units have single mothers.

Though geography plays an obvious role in people's economic opportunities, one of the study's authors said it is difficult to explain how the country got to this point and how to fix it.

"There are no blanket answers as to what the right policies for mobility are at this point," said Nathaniel Hendren, an economics professor at Harvard. "We want to learn why some areas are so much better than some other areas. We know from other studies that teachers in schools have a dramatic impact on kids earning. Improving public schools is important, but that's not the end all, be all."

Salt Lake City (11.5 percent), San Francisco (11.2 percent), Boston (9.8 percent), New York (9.7 percent) and Los Angeles (9.6 percent) have the highest rates of upward mobility among major metropolitan cities.

The research team found most areas with low economic mobility had certain things in common.

For instance, many of the worst cities are likely to have a smaller middle class and low-income areas residentially separated from middle-income areas.

Poor quality K-12 school systems - determined by low test scores and high dropout rates - also have an effect.

Ultimately, the study found the strongest similarities between low-income, low-opportunity areas tend to be single-parent homes and a decreased emphasis on religion.

Other cities that are among the worst for upward mobility are Montgomery, AL; Columbus, GA; Spartanburg, SC; and Albany, GA.

Cities in the upper Midwest like Indianapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati and Detroit are also on the lower tier of this trend. The same is true of western Alaska.

The research was conducted across a 30-year period that included millions of anonymous earnings records spanning two generations.

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