Monday, July 22, 2013

Upward mobility varies by "social capital" in a geographical area

In some cities or metropolitan areas, it is much easier for people from lower income families (or no families) to move up the economic ladder than others.  Cities or areas in the Southeast and Midwest tend to be much more stagnant.  That’s the subject of a front page article by David Leonahardt in the Monday July 22, 2013 New York Times, link here

Leonhardt compares cities like Atlanta with Seattle, which average incomes are comparable.  But in Atlanta, regardless of race, there is less upward mobility.
One problem is that housing is not as economically integrated in southern and some Midwestern cities.  People of different classes don’t mix as much socially.  And some cities have seen outward migration of employers who effectively recreate economic segregation.  Compare relatively well-off areas like Minneapolis-St. Paul or Pittsburgh, where this happens less, with Detroit or Cleveland.  Conservatives will say that inflexible labor unions have a lot to do with it.

Even in relatively prosperous cities like Dallas, there has sometimes been unhealthful interest by employers to flee to one area (like north of the city, to use the Richardson or Plano school districts). This was particularly the case when I lived there in the 1980’s.

I could add that cities with strong LGBT communities, which tend to cross lines, may tend to have better upward mobility. On the other hand, this may be true in areas with extremely strong religious life, like Salt Lake City.
One interesting observation is that upward mobility deteriorates when people are less involved with religious or civic organizations, even if that resistance comes from hyper-individualism or resentment or organizational bureaucracy or “political” squabbles (which are so common in many main-line churches in big cities, leading to the “fired pastor problem”).   Libertarian author Charles Murray had noted this in his book “Coming Apart” (March 14, 2012 on the Books blog). 

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