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Monday, July 22, 2013

Study: metro Atlanta ranks worst in economic mobility

While various pundits have declared the American Dream dead for decades, a new study suggests that upward mobility doesn't just depend on how wealthy your parents are: It also depends on where you grew up.

Of all the large metropolitan areas in America, metro Atlanta ranks as the worst in terms of economic mobility, making it the hardest major metro region in the country for a poor kid to become a wealthy adult.

For the study, which The New York Times reported on earlier today, researchers looked at children born between 1980 and 1981 and examined how their parents' salaries related to their salaries at the age of 30. Only 4 percent of metro Atlanta children born in the poorest fifth of families achieved relative wealth, becoming a top-fifth earner by adulthood. By comparison, 10 percent of relatively poor children in the Los Angeles and New York metro areas became top earners.

The study marks the first time that regional differences in "upward mobility" - the distinctly American idea that the poor are able to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and eventually achieve a comfortable middle-class life - has been measured. The data shows that a child born in the South or the industrial Midwest has a far worse chance of performing this feat, while children born in the Northeast or Mountain West have the best chance of success.

The researchers who published the study initially set out to determine how effective the earned income tax credit was in lifting children out of poverty. They found that higher tax burdens on the rich and larger tax credits for the poor only improved economic outcomes slightly for poorer children. Instead, they found that economic mobility is found most in areas with socioeconomically-diverse neighborhoods. In addition, mobility was highest in cities with higher amounts of two-parent households, better public schools, and more civic engagement.

Although the economy seems to be growing at an increasing clip, a majority of Americans' financial worries still run high. Now let's get back to obsessing over royal offspring.

Mayor Kasim Reed spokeswoman Melissa Mullinax tells CL the city plans to respond with a statement addressing the study sometime this week.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post referred to cities. The study focuses on metro regions.

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