Income Mobility in the US is Terrible, But at Least It’s Not Getting Worse


A new study confirms what I’ve been reading for a while now: income mobility in America hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. We continue to trail most other advanced economies, but at least things aren’t getting any worse.

Interestingly, it turns out that mobility changes fairly dramatically depending on where you grow up. The heat map on the right shows a measure of absolute mobility: the odds that a child of poor parents will move up the income ladder. Mobility is highest in the Midwest, followed by the Northeast and the Pacific Coast. The authors conclude that there are five main factors that contribute to higher mobility:

High mobility areas have (1) less residential segregation, (2) less income inequality, (3) better primary schools, (4) greater social capital, and (5) greater family stability. While our descriptive analysis does not identify the causal mechanisms that determine upward mobility, the new publicly available statistics on intergenerational mobility by area developed here can facilitate future research on such mechanisms.

There are some other remarkable charts in the paper, including one that shows virtually perfect correlation between parent income and the odds of children attending college, and another that shows nearly as good a correlation between parent income and teen birthrates. (The teen birthrate correlation is inverse: the higher the income, the lower the birthrate.)

David Leonhardt has more here.

THANK YOU.

We recently wrapped up the crowdfunding campaign for our ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project, and it was a smashing success. About 10,364 readers pitched in with donations averaging $45, and together they contributed about $467,374 toward our $500,000 goal.

That's amazing. We still have donations from letters we sent in the mail coming back to us, so we're on pace to hit—if not exceed—that goal. Thank you so much. We'll keep you posted here as the project ramps up, and you can join the hundreds of readers who have alerted us to corruption to dig into.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.