Economic Mobility

in the United States

What if your economic mobility depends on where you were raised?

What is economic mobility?

Economic mobility refers to the ability of an individual, family, or group to change their economic status. Studies have shown the disparities of income inequality in the United States which disrupts economic mobility.

Who is affected by economic mobility?

Though race does not correlate the likelihood of low-income children’s outcome to have better economic mobility based on a study by economists, it does reflect that 58% of America’s poor are racial or ethnic minorities, according to the National Poverty Center. This reveals that racial and ethnic minorities are the least likely to change their economic status.

Further research indicates Metropolitan areas rank lowest in economic mobility predominantly in the south, which means those area are more likely to remain in poverty.

Another study on economic mobility in the United States states, “The analysis makes it clear that children born into different economic circumstances can expect very distinct economic futures.” 

(Geographic map of The Geography of Upward Mobility in the United States provided by Professor Raj Chetty Harvard University.)

What affects economic mobility?

To take the steps to improve economic mobility, it is important to clearly understand the barriers that cause it and remain in place regardless of the economy growing and employment increasing. Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that these barriers  include high levels of income inequality, unequal access to educational opportunities, residential segregation by income, inadequate investments in children and certain areas, and a markedly slower employment recovery in rural relative to metro areas.

If a child faces an inadequate school system, or a toxic environment, it will be much harder for her to realize her intellectual, and later, her economic, potential. 

Key components affecting economic mobility are 

  • Education
  • Family Stability
  • Race
  • Wealth
  • Geographic Location

What improves economic mobility?

Bernstein explains that when solutions are aimed at reducing such barriers include infrastructure investment, direct job creation, health care and other work supports, apprenticeships, and more. Longer-term solutions invoke policy interventions targeting inequality, inadequate housing, income and wage stagnation, nutritional and health support, the criminal justice system, and educational access.

Policies that improve schools, provide parenting resources and desegregate housing can combat economic inequality.