Some Rural Areas Are Better for Economic Mobility

When it comes to economic mobility, the image that comes to mind is one of savvy, ambitious kids from the cities and suburbs of large superstar metro areas like New York, Boston, and San Francisco getting ahead, while children from more isolated, rural areas fall further and further behind.

But this narrative is not borne out by the data. Actually, according to several new studies, kids who grow up in rural areas have a better shot at upward mobility than their peers who live in larger, denser urban areas.

The new Opportunity Atlas released earlier this week by economist Raj Chetty and his team at Opportunity Insights, with researchers from the U.S. Census Bureau, finds that the economic mobility of Americans is tied to the neighborhoods in which they live. This updates their earlier work which found that economic mobility varies considerably across metro areas. One of the least appreciated and least talked about findings of that earlier research is that low-income youth growing up in rural areas have a better chance at upward mobility than their urban counterparts. Or as the authors put it: “Opportunities for upward mobility are not necessarily better for children growing up in cities rather than in rural areas.”

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