Charlotte’s economic ascension over the past generation has not translated into an easier climb to wealth for poor residents. A new study looks at how children of low-income parents fare as adults and finds Charlotte near the bottom of America’s largest cities.
The entire swathe of the southeastern United States is painted deepest red on the study’s map, from Louisiana to Virginia.
“The darker areas are areas where kids are least likely to move up in the income distribution relative to their parents,” says Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and one of the authors of the Equality of Opportunity Project. The study is one of the most comprehensive of income mobility in recent memory.
Charlotte ranks 49th of the 50 largest cities, with only Atlanta trailing. Salt Lake City ranks first, followed by San Francisco and San Jose, California. Chetty says the study did not make conclusions about the causes, but did find some correlations between cities and their ranks.
“Charlotte has a smaller middle class than most American cities,” Chetty says. “It also has more segregation—that is, the lowest income families are living in neighborhoods that are separated from higher income families to a greater degree than other cities.”
Add to that a loss of manufacturing jobs, especially in the Southeast, and John Chesser at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute says that makes it even harder to move up.
“People with less education or high level skills had a path to move into middle income and that pathway doesn’t seem to be as available now,” says Chesser.
To widen that pathway, Chesser says the nation needs to find a new source for middle-class jobs.