An Atlas of Upward Mobility

Background Reading

Summary

The former home of the Polk family in Bellwood, Ill.  The fatal shooting of Latonya Polk's husband there prompted her to move away with her two children in search of a safer place. Credit Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The former home of the Polk family in Bellwood, Ill. The fatal shooting of Latonya Polk’s husband there prompted her to move away with her two children in search of a safer place. Credit Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The city is especially harsh for boys: Low-income boys who grew up there in recent decades make roughly 25 percent less as adults than similar low-income boys who were born in the city and moved as small children to an average place.

Beyond Baltimore, economists say the study offers perhaps the most detailed portrait yet of upward mobility — and the lack of it. The findings suggest that geography does not merely separate rich from poor but also plays a large role in determining which poor children achieve the so-called American dream.

How neighborhoods affect children “has been a quandary with which social science has been grappling for decades,” said David B. Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. “This delivers the most compelling evidence yet that neighborhoods matter in a really big way.”

Raj Chetty, one of the study’s authors, has presented the findings to members of the Obama administration, as well as to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush, both of whom have signaled that mobility will be central themes of their 2016 presidential campaigns. After more than 15 years of mostly mediocre economic growth and rising income inequality, many families say they are frustrated and anxious about trying to get ahead.

“The data shows we can do something about upward mobility,” said Mr. Chetty, a Harvard professor, who conducted the main study along with Nathaniel Hendren, also a Harvard economist. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter.”

The places where poor children face the worst odds include some — but not all — of the nation’s largest urban areas, like Atlanta; Chicago; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Orlando, West Palm Beach and Tampa in Florida; Austin, Tex.; the Bronx; and the parts of Manhattan with low-income neighborhoods.


TakeAways

DuPage County has a stellar reputation.