A new study shows that your potential for climbing the income ladder in the United States is largely dependent on your hometown. “Where you grow up matters,” Harvard economist and study author Nathaniel Hendren told The New York Times. “There is tremendous variation across the U.S. in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.”
Geography matters much less for the children of well-off parents — who tend to do well across the board — but for those at the bottom of the ladder, growing up in poor neighborhoods in Atlanta or Chicago often means that the chances of achieving higher incomes later in life are significantly lessened.
David Leonhardt reports:
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. 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.
Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.