Three of us from PolicyMap attended a conference on community development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia this week. The conference was called Reinventing Older Communities: Bridging Growth & Opportunity and featured an array of speakers on the future of our cities and metropolitan areas including demographics, economic growth, neighborhood revitalization, infrastructure, education, housing and workforce development. We were delighted to see some of our partners and friends and to hear about so many exciting developments in older cities throughout the country.
One of the highlights of the conference was a presentation by economist Raj Chetty of Harvard University, who presented the findings from his study on economic mobility in the United States. Inequality is a hot button topic of the day, and one of the strengths of Prof Chetty’s work is to reframe this debate as one of economic opportunity. He examined the odds of someone growing up in the bottom 20 percent of the income spectrum reaching the top 20 percent of the income spectrum in adulthood. Prof. Chetty’s findings revealed great variation within the US in upward mobility, and these are shown in the map below.
First, the most visually striking thing here are major regional differences in outcomes, with the southeast disproportionately shaded the lightest purples on the map. This means a child growing up in the poorest sections of Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina has less than a 5 percent chance of reaching the highest income quintile.
Second, there is often great variation state to state. For example, the map shows a line along the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, with greater potential for upward mobility in Pennsylvania than in Ohio.
Third, rural and urban areas reveal different patterns. Urban areas generally have much lower rates of mobility. Rural areas tend to have higher rates of mobility. However, these success stories from rural areas tend to be individuals that have moved away from the area, taking their skills and their incomes with them.
Prof Chetty’s presentation offered the five strongest correlates for places with the lowest economic mobility: segregation, income inequality, school quality, family structure and social capital.
We added the data from Prof Chetty’s study to PolicyMap last summer and you can find all of it under the Income & Spending tab. For more about his study click here.