In addition to overused aphorisms—it takes money to make money!—there’s a macroeconomic debate about the causal relationship between increased inequality and decreased mobility. But we do know that higher levels of inequality are correlated with lower levels of mobility at the local level.
Using data from the National Equity Atlas, let’s look at inequality for Southern metros. This measure of inequality shows the ratio of income at the 95th percentile of the household income distribution to income at the 20th percentile:
Click image for full size. Note: Data shown for the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) that includes the city listed above. Source: National Equity Atlas.
Being middle class in America is not just about a specific income range—it’s about lifestyle and perception. But, looking strictly at the data, what income range makes up the middle three quintiles of the income distribution? Last week, Planet Money examined the income distribution in major US cities; we assembled similar data for major Southern metros to consider what income levels are actually middle class in different places.
The chart below shows that broad middle income range—from the 20th income percentile to the 80th, or the middle three quintiles of the income distribution. That means in each metro area, 20 percent of households make less than the purple marker, and 20 percent of households make more than the orange marker. The green square shows the median household income:
Click image for full size. Note: Data shown for the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) that includes the city listed above. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2013 5-year estimates
“It’s like the Fourth of July, except in March.” That’s how MDCer and Savannah, Georgia, native Leslie Howell described her hometown’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Growing up in Savannah, Leslie remembers having a school holiday and arriving at the parade route early to get a good spot to see high school marching bands and—her favorite—the prancing Clydesdales. Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the third-largest in the world; there are more than 300,000 people expected to come out for this year’s festivities. (The parade has been held annually—with a few exceptions—since the early 1800s, the parade beginnings coinciding with an influx of Irish immigrants.)
But not everyone gets to take the day off for the parade. Paid time off is just one of the benefits that make up a good job–one that pays enough to cover basic living expenses and is stable enough for saving and wealth building. Neither Babs nor I want to rain on your parade, but you could use more good jobs, Savannah (like most of the South.)
In Greenville, South Carolina, economic resurgence and downtown redevelopment are celebrated, but underlying equity and mobility issues remain. Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, Greenville is in the bottom ten for economic mobility of young people—sitting precariously above only a handful of other Southern metros, including Raleigh, Charlotte, and Atlanta. We profiled Greenville and how leaders there are working to connect the city’s young people with economic prosperity in the State of the South report. (You read and download the full profile here.)
“A young person’s economic prospects should not be determined by his or her zip code,” says John Concklin, program investment manager at United Way of Greenville County. “Unfortunately, in the area known as the ‘White Horse Corridor,’ prospects for a successful future are tough—32 percent of households live in poverty; 66 percent have only a high school diploma or less; unemployment is greater than 25 percent in some sections; and the city’s lowest performing high schools are found here.”
To improve youth mobility, Greenville, like many Southern metros, needs to eliminate disparities in social and economic outcomes, which appear along geographic and racial lines. Let’s take a look at some data on growth and inequality in Greenville. (Some of the data below is from the National Equity Atlas—check it out for a trove of data on equity in all 50 states and the largest 150 metro areas).
Where you start in life affects where you get—educationally and economically—in a big way. In sprawling metros of the South, residential segregation influences school quality, housing options, and transportation, and a disconnect often exists between low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and the location of good jobs. Economic segregation is deeply intertwined with racial segregation in the South, so the impact of this geographic divide disproportionately affects people of color.
An Equality of Opportunity Project study on the geography of economic mobility found that areas with low mobility tend to have high levels of residential economic segregation, and last week, the Martin Prosperity Institute released a report on residential economic segregation in U.S. metros. They found that economic segregation is generally higher in big, dense cities, and it’s also higher in knowledge economies. In these cities, there are rarely pathways for workers to move into high-wage jobs, and residential segregation by educational level and occupation worsens social isolation. Physical and geographic distance makes it harder for people to identify job openings and training opportunities; with this information gap, it’s even hard to figure out what skills are required for those jobs. Job requirements change rapidly, especially in high-tech and knowledge economies, making it especially important for young people to be connected to social networks with information about emerging skill requirements—and opportunities to develop them.