Last year, the Equality of Opportunity Project released a study on the geography of intergenerational income mobility, with a New York Times feature and map to accompany it. That map of mobility, which shows much of the South in stark contrast to the rest of the nation, quickly became a topic of conversation across the region: some of our region’s most economically dynamic communities fared the worst on income mobility.
In the Forbes rating of “Best Places for Business and Careers,’’ six Southern metros placed in the top 10 among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the nation, but eight Southern metros rank in the worst 10 metropolitan areas on a measure of mobility.
Of Southern metros in the top 50 for business, only one is also in the top 50 for mobility: Houston, Texas. But even in Houston, where the poverty rate is 16 percent and the number of people in poverty has increased 46 percent since 2000, the chance of a young person born in the bottom quintile rising to the top quintile is only 8.4 percent. For children who grew up squarely in the bottom quintile in Houston, 30 percent remain there as adults, 28 percent rise to the lower middle quintile, and 20 percent make it to the middle quintile.
While Houston has significantly more income mobility than other Southern metros—37 percent of children born in the bottom quintile in Raleigh stay there as adults—those statistics show that even in the South’s most mobile places, far too many young people remain stuck at the bottom with little opportunity for economic security and career advancement.
The economic conditions of communities across the region vary: while some metros are experiencing job growth and attracting newcomers from in and out of their regions, many small cities struggle to rebuild their economies after the demise of traditional economic bases like manufacturing, and the majority of rural areas struggle with too few well-paying jobs, aging populations, and low public and philanthropic investment. Regardless of those contrasting situations, the South faces a common challenge of improving the prospects for youth and young adults.
The State of the South profiles nine Southern communities, large and small, urban and rural—Brownsville, Texas, Charlotte, N.C., Port St. Joe, Fla., Danville, Va., Greenville, S.C., Northern Neck, Va., Houston, Texas, Durham, N.C., and regions of Arkansas— and examines the status of their opportunity infrastructures.
Ed. Note: This post originally appeared on MDC’s blog, The North Star.