JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A study by a group led by a Harvard economist says Missourians have, on average, about a one-in-ten chance of moving from the bottom fifth of the income level to the top fifth. And St. Louis is one of the worst big cities in the country when it comes to climbing from the bottom rung to the top rung of the economic ladder. The study by the Equality of Opportunity Project says people at the bottom in St. Louis have a 5.1 percent chance of reaching the top rung.
The project says those in the top fifth are those reaching a family income of more than $70,000 a year by age thirty, or $100,000 a year by age forty-five.
Organizers of the study say the results show no clear answer to whether the United States truly is a “land of opportunity.” They say their studies of children born 1980-82 and their incomes at age thirty indicate the United States is actually “a collection of societies,” only some of which are “lands of opportunity with high rates of mobility across generations.” But it says other areas are places “in which few children escape poverty.”
The researchers studied 741 “commuting zones,” described as “geographical aggregations of counties that are similar to metro areas but also cover rural areas. A summary of the findings says, “Some cities have rates of upward income mobility comparable to the most mobile countries in the world, while others have lower rates of mobility than any developed country. These geographical differences in upward mobility are strongly correlated with five primary factors: segregation, income inequality, local school quality, social capital, and family structure.
The study says family structure is “the strongest predictors of upward mobility.” But the researchers also caution against reading the findings in a way they consider incorrectly. “”All of the findings in this study are rorrelational and cannot be interpreted as causal effects,” they write.
The full report can be found at http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/
The chances by percentage of reaching the top fifth of the economic ladder, starting from the bottom fifth (for comparison purposes, San Jose, California’s odds are 12.9%, which ranks them first among the fifty largest cities and Charlotte, NC has the lowest percentage among the largest cities at 4.4%):
Polk County 11.2
St. Joseph 9.5
West Plains 8.2
Kansas City 7.0
Poplar Bluff 6.7
Cape Girardeau 6.0
St. Louis 5.1