Southerners Least Likely To Have Upward Income Mobility

Stanford economics professor Raj Chetty.Screengrab/Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality/YouTube

Equal opportunity does not appear to be equal across all regions of the United States.

According to an analysis by Stanford economics professor Raj Chetty, people in certain regions of the United States have a far better chance than others when it comes to rising out of poverty to climb the socioeconomic ladder. Americans born in the West have the greatest likelihood, and those in the Deep South have the worst chances.

In 2013, [Stanford] economics professor Raj Chetty calculated upward mobility across the United States. By analyzing anonymous earnings records from million of people born from 1980 to 1982, he could track how much money people made based on where they were born.

The results were startling. Chetty found that for people born in the bottom fifth of the US income distribution, their chances of reaching the top fifth later in life vary widely based on where they're from.

Why is this the case? Chetty posits five primary components: segregation, income inequality, local school quality, social capital, and family structure.

What is clear from this research is that there is substantial variation in the United States in the prospects for escaping poverty. Understanding the properties of the highest mobility areas – and how we can improve mobility in areas that currently have lower rates of mobility – is an important question for future research that we and other social scientists are exploring.