05/09/2012 - Reaching for the American dream? Your best chances are probably in New York, New Jersey or Maryland.
Those states are best at helping Americans move up the income ladder, both in absolute terms and relative to their peers, according to a groundbreaking new study from the Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Center on the States.
Generally speaking, states in New England and the mid-Atlantic had the most upwardly mobile residents, whereas states in the South had the least mobile populations.
The study, by Erin Currier and Diana Elliott, also considered whether people were able to move up the income ladder relative to their peers - that is, how common is the modern-day Horatio Alger hero, the upstart who displaces people who are more privileged?
To measure this "relative upward mobility," the authors focused on people in the bottom half of the income distribution and tracked whether those individuals were able to move up at least 10 percentiles.
"It was beyond the scope of the study to look at why states performed the way they did," Ms. Currier said. "What I can say is that our previous research has found some particular drivers of economic mobility at the individual level, including education, savings and assets, and neighborhood poverty during childhood."
The researchers found at least one other factor that correlated with higher income mobility: the willingness to move to another state. People who moved to another state were more likely to get a big income increase, presumably because higher-income opportunities were part of the reason for migrating in the first place.
The report did not find that high turnover - having a lot of people move in, or a lot of people move out - affected how states performed.
"We thought there might be some sort of a brain drain effect, that maybe the best and the brightest move out," Ms. Currier said. "Our sample - and other data - showed that in general people are unlikely to move out of birth state. As a result, the aggregate level of moving out or moving in or staying put didn't actually affect any state as whole."
Read the full article, Memo to Would-Be Members of the 1%: Move to the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic, on the New York Times' website.