A new study of upward mobility in America finds that geography plays a role in predicting the sliding fortunes of regions like Northeast Ohio. How likely you will be to "move up" depends largely on what metropolitan region you live in.
In Northeast Ohio, something about our income distribution, segregation, how we build social capital and migration factors is restricting income mobility, a Harvard University study comparing regions found. Mobility is extremely limited in our region for children raised in lower incomes.
But Greater Cleveland also limits mobility if you were raised in a middle income family. Only 16% of children from families who earn $47-73,000 annually in Greater Cleveland will move up to the next income bracket.
This places Northeast Ohio near the bottom in income mobility. Only Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Atlanta perform worse in concentrating poverty or limiting mobility. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh—geographically limited being a hill and valley city—did the best in the country in promoting income mobility across all classes.
The study is being called the “most comprehensive analysis of intergenerational mobility in the contemporary U.S.”
The comparison of metro areas allows researchers to consider local factors that previous mobility studies could not—including a region’s geography, The Times reports.
In Atlanta, the most comment lament seems to be precisely that concentrated poverty, extensive traffic and a weak public-transit system make it difficult to get to job opportunities.
How have land-use and transportation policies played a role in the geography of limited income mobility? Northeast Ohio has higher than U.S. average levels of suburban sprawl and higher than average abandoned properties in its urban centers. It consistently ranks near the bottom of state investment in public transit. The region has for decades invested more in highways than in improving local roads. The current study of this data being conducted by Sasaki & Associates for the VibrantNEO initiative confirms that the pattern of low-density land use and investing heavily in highways puts the region on a trajectory of fiscal crisis—that includes the counties in Northeast Ohio that are well off today.
The Harvard University study looks at how local and state tax policy—but also “social” factors like diversity and more social activity—support a pattern of mobility for low and middle income families. For example, the study found that more integrated communities—like New York City—actually did well to increase income mobility for kids of low, middle and upper income families.
“Upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods,” The Times reports.
Limited mobility was the same story with Ohio’s three major metropolitan regions. State policy for (federal) Earned Income Tax Credits distributed is a factor. It also leaves open the possibility that other state policy—from income tax breaks for sprawl communities to investing poorly in transit, and running up decades of debt on highways projects—are factors in limiting income mobility in metro regions across the state. Cincinnati is the worst performer—with children from higher income families doing much better (staying in the high income bracket) than their peers raised in lower income families.
Greater Cleveland by the numbers
The chance of ending up in the top quintile for a child raised in the...
...bottom quintile (parents’ income under $25,000) = 5.2%
...middle quintile (parents’ income $47k to $73k) = 16.3%
...top quintile (parents’ income $107,000 and above) = 33.8%
The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (aka VibrantNEO) will host round two of its public workshops starting next week. It will engage participants in a game where they can choose alternatives to the current pattern of development.