Upward mobility in red vs. blue America

In what part of the United States do people have the best chance to get ahead—the conservative Republican areas or the liberal Democratic areas?  David Leonhardt of the New York Times, author of a much-read article about the geography of upward mobility, reported in a follow-up article that there’s little overall difference between Red and Blue America.

Double click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The study found that among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the ones that offer the best opportunities for poor people to get ahead are (1) the best,  Salt Lake City, (2) San Jose, CA, (3) San Francisco, (4) Seattle, (5) San Diego, (6) Pittsburgh, (7) Sacramento, (8) Manchester, NH, (9) Boston and (10) New York City.

The ones that offer the worst opportunities are (41) Milwaukee, (42) Cincinnati, (43) Jacksonville, FL, (44) Raleigh, NC, (45) Cleveland, (46) Columbus, (47) Detroit, (48) Indianapolis, (49) Charlotte, NC and (50) the worst, Atlanta.

Leonhardt commented:

The patterns make sense in light of the four factors the study cited as being strongly correlated with upward mobility rates: school quality; family structure; civic engagement, including membership in religious groups; and the size and geographic dispersion of the middle class. These factors do not strongly favor either conservative America or liberal America.

On the one hand, divorce tends to be less common in high-mobility areas, and Democratic states generally have lower divorce rates. But religious participation, another feature of high-mobility regions, is typically higher in Republican states.  Standardized test scores are generally higher in Democratic states than Republican ones, but several conservative states, like Kansas, Montana and the Dakotas, have high scores, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The study also found that some of the metropolitan regions with a notably small number of middle-class households (based on the national income distribution) and a high concentration of poverty are in blue-leaning states. Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore all make that list.


It’s true that upward mobility is less common in Deep South. (In the 11 states that made up the Confederacy, the odds of jumping from the bottom fifth of the income distribution in childhood to the top fifth in adulthood were only 6.6 percent, compared with 8.9 percent in the rest of the country.)

But mobility was also notably low in Democratic-leaning Michigan and in the swing state of Ohio.  As Paul Krugman noted in his column today, Atlanta and Detroit, which otherwise have little in common, both suffer from low mobility.  And while the Northeast and West Coast, Democratic strongholds, have high rates of mobility, some of the highest rates are in Utah, Wyoming and the Dakotas, none of which have voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in almost 50 years.

via NYTimes.com.


The Equality of Opportunity Project, the web site for the study by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez.

Upward Mobility Is No Less Common in ‘Red’ America, the complete follow-up article by David Leonhardt.

In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters, the complete original article by David Leonhardt.

Upward mobility isn’t the most important thing, my argument that opportunity to move up relative to others is good but broad prosperity is more important.

[Update 8/1/2013]  The following maps show variations in income mobility in U.S. counties and some of the factors said to affect income mobility.  Click on the maps to enlarge them.

inequality map 630


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Click to view.


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