The expectation that children born in the United States will do better than their parents is the bedrock of the American dream. Rates of upward income mobility have fallen sharply in recent decades, however, and in some areas they are close to zero.
According to recent research on intergenerational mobility, the percentage of children who grow up to earn more than their parents is down from approximately 90% of children born in 1940, to 50% of children born in the 1980s.
Economic research organization The Equality of Opportunity Project considered average incomes of 26-year olds raised in the bottom quartile in 2,973 U.S. counties. A 26-year old from this background who earns more than the national average for his age and income group is said to have managed upward income mobility.
The researchers found neighborhood environments have substantial effects on children’s long-term economic outcomes. The probability of earning in adulthood more than $26,090 — the average annual income for the bottom quartile nationally — goes down every year of childhood spent in nearly 1,000 counties. To highlight the substantial geographic variation on this pattern, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 50 counties where the average incomes lost are greatest.