Which States Have the Most Economic Mobility?

Publication: Time

Author: Christopher Matthews

05/10/2012 - Americans love economic mobility. It’s kind of a founding myth for us: We see ourselves as having broken free from rigid, aristocratic Europe to form a meritocracy that guaranteed a chance to move up in the world. Though there has been much talk lately about rising income inequality in the United States, what has worried pundits on both the left and the right has been recent reports that Americans aren’t as economically mobile as citizens in other Western nations.

The Pew Economic Mobility Project has been studying this phenomenon, and is out with a new report examining which regions in America are the most and least mobile. Researchers looked at Americans ages 35 to 39 and then examined their incomes ten years later. The study covered the time period between 1978 and 2007, and tackled three different measures of income mobility: absolute mobility (as measured by inflation-adjusted income growth over time), and relative upward and downward mobility — i.e. movement up or down the socio-economic ladder.  In other words, are Americans born poor becoming rich and vice-versa?


Interestingly enough, geographic mobility doesn’t appear have a large effect on economic mobility. That is, it doesn’t matter if you’re born in Maryland or you move there – you’re more likely move up the economic ladder either way. According to Erin Currier, Project Manager of the Pew Economic Mobility Project, individuals who do move states do have better economic mobility, but more than two-thirds of Americans stay in their birth state for the remainder of their lives. Therefore, “Geographic mobility might help an individuals’ economic mobility, [but] it’s not really driving state-level findings as a whole.”

So why are some states more economically mobile than others? This study doesn’t seek to specifically address the causes of relative mobility between states, but there are some important factors that the Economic Mobility Project has found are essential to promoting economic mobility overall, and these include things like like “educational attainment, savings and asset building, and neighborhood poverty during childhood,” according to Currier.

Read the full article, Which States Have the Most Economic Mobility?, on Time's website.

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