Income Immobility -- Educational Implications? Part 1

Part 1

With income inequality having become a major issue for both economists and politicians, and will most certainly be a factor in the upcoming 2014 congressional elections, a new study regarding income immobility will resound.

This study has found that where a child lives -- the degree of income diversity in his/her neighborhood -- has a major impact on whether that child will climb the class/income ladder or remain in poverty for the rest of her life.

The study, as reported in The New York Times, was based upon millions of anonymous earnings records and compared upward income mobility across metropolitan areas. It found that Atlanta, Charlotte and Detroit were the worst major areas for poor children to move up the income ladder while San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle were among the best.

The researchers identified four reasons.

  1. the dispersal of poor families among mixed-income neighborhoods;
  2. the presence of two-parent households;
  3. the degree of civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups; and
  4. the quality of the elementary schools and high schools.

Another interesting finding was that children who moved at a young (elementary school) age from a low mobility area to a high mobility area did almost as well in moving up the income ladder as those who spend their entire childhoods in a higher mobility area, but children who moved as teenagers did much less well.

For those who were looking to blame either liberals or conservatives for these results were disappointed as the degree of income mobility out of the poorest class was basically the same whether the individuals lived in states characterized as liberal or conservative.

Most importantly for those interested in the role education plays in our society, and the progress of society itself, one must ask the extent to which current school reform efforts can make a difference given this study's findings.

Namely, what types of changes in the currently utilized structures, organizations and/or instructional methodologies of elementary, middle and high school education can make a difference if children live and attend schools in neighborhoods characterized by everyone living in poverty?

More on this in my next blog.