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Posted on May 4, 2015
On Sunday we heard that sixty of Tallahassee’s political, educational and business elites were headed to Boulder, Colorado to seek new ideas for our local economy.
Monday morning we read that these leaders were wandering Pearl Street and peering into the windows of locally owned coffee shops, breweries and stores.
And then a report by two Harvard professors, published in the New York Times, which indicates Leon County ranks low for income mobility for children in poor families, hit the mobile devices of the delegation.
Leon County Chairman, Mary Ann Lindley, responded by telling the Tallahassee Democrat “we have our work cut out for us in improving life.”
The report shows that Leon County ranks better than only 13% of the 2,478 counties included in the study when it comes to providing opportunity for poor children to move up the economic ladder.
Boulder County, home to Boulder, Colorado ranked better than 77% of all counties.
What should be shocking to the local Tallahassee elected leaders in Boulder was that the report concluded “The main lesson of our analysis is that intergenerational mobility is a local problem, one that could potentially be tackled using place-based policies.” (Page 42 of original report, emphasis added)
Why do some areas of the U.S. exhibit much higher rates of upward mobility than others?
The study concluded that there were five categories that exhibit the strongest relationship with mobility: racial demographics, segregation, income inequality, school quality, social capital, and family structure. The correlations are shown in the chart below. Click on chart to enlarge.
Within the categories the strongest single variable correlated with mobility was the percentage of children living in single-parent households. The higher the number of single parent households, the less income mobility.
In fact there was no category that had a stronger correlation to income mobility than the family structure category, which also included divorce rates (negative correlation) and two parent families (positive correlation).
The social capital category also showed strong correlation with income mobility. One measure of social capital, using voter turnout statistics and other measures of community involvement, had a positive and strong relationship with income mobility.
The study also considered two other proxies for social capital: the percentage of religious individuals (based 39 on data from the Association of Religion Data Archives) and the rate of violent crime (using data from the Uniform Crime Report).
The findings indicate that religiosity is strongly positively correlated with upward mobility, while crime rates are negatively correlated with mobility.