The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (Democracy, Rights, Liberty, Opportunity, and Equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.
It is a basic part of our fabric, rooted in the Declaration of Independence proclaiming all men created equal with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Those ideals have recently been put to the test by a pair of economists at Harvard, known for their work on income mobility. They have released a report on factors across the nation within communities correlating with income mobility: The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility. Their findings took many by surprise.
Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In general, the effects of place are sharper for boys than for girls, and for lower-income children than for rich.
“The broader lesson of our analysis,” Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren write, “is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level.”
They found substantial variation in intergenerational mobility across geographic areas within the U.S., although upward mobility is especially low across the South. Most important, their findings confirm that Charlotte is the worst big city for climbing out of poverty in the nation!
Charlotte’s ranking is especially surprising in light of the national and international accolades the city has received over the recent years as one of the most entrepreneurial, fastest growing, best places for families to live, U.S. cities attracting the most families , most livable cities for people 35 and younger, cities where African-Americans are doing the best economically, best metro areas for STEM professionals, best performing cities, and—ironically—one of the world’s most competitive cities.
In reaction to this study showing that upward mobility for children in poverty is more difficult in Charlotte than any of the country’s 50 largest cities, the city formed its own special task force to investigate why, in the words of one member, “If you’re born poor in Charlotte, you’re mostly likely to remain poor—more so here than anywhere else in the country.”
The upward mobility study of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s “Opportunity Landscape” was released this spring, presented by UNCC’s Metropolitan Studies and Extended Academic Programs and prepared by UNC Charlotte’s Urban Land Institute with support from Foundation for The Carolinas.
Here are a few of the findings or highlights from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg study:
• 38 percent of households with children are single parent;
• Segregation is evident in neighborhoods, by race and class;
• One fifth of the households made more than half the income;
• Many households would fall into poverty after 3 months without income;
• Differences in mobility emerge when children are young (based upon reading skills);
• Inter-racial trust has remained flat.
The task force recognized Charlotte’s ranking as a clear challenge and stressed that overcoming impoverishment needs to be addressed through long-term community-wide solutions that address the systemic nature of this highly complex issue.
That our city can garner such outstanding recognition nationally and internationally, yet cultivate such a dismal landscape of opportunity, particularly for those most in need, is indeed food for thought. We cannot truly advance our community if we are leaving people behind in that process. Let’s get our competitive juices flowing to float everyone’s boat!.