Except for those families at the very highest end of the socio-economic ladder, the well-being of any community’s family structure is directly tied to that community’s economic well-being. When jobs are plentiful, everyone is working and families fare quite well. There once was a time when our economy did so well that one of the family’s parents (usually the wife/mother) was able to stay at home to rear the kids. This has long been considered the ideal family structure but, sadly, it hasn’t been available to most families for quite some time.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the past generation has seen the advent of the majority of children – over 70 percent – growing up in a family with both parents needing to work to make ends meet. And that’s just the beginning of the family’s economic woes. Since the onset of the recession – in late 2007 – men were on the losing end of four out of every five jobs lost. This effectively left women comprising half the work force (49.7 percent) since early 2009.
Considering the fact that women’s wages are typically much less than men’s wages, you begin to get a clearer picture of the declining economic fortunes of American families during the current recession.
It’s reasonable to assume that once the economy gets better and good paying jobs return, might not the families thrust into economic purgatory be able to better their situations? Unfortunately, where you live is a major determinant of that possibility and, according to a major new study, Atlanta is not the place to be if you’re looking to climb the economic ladder.
In what is being referred to as the most comprehensive study yet of income mobility in America, a team of economic researchers from Harvard University and the University of California sifted through millions of earnings records in an effort to compare upward mobility rates across metro areas in America. The landmark study concluded that Atlanta is one of the metro areas where it is extremely difficult for lower income households to ascend to the middle class. And lest you figure that metro Atlanta’s large black population plays a significant role in the results, the study says no. Both white and black residents of Atlanta show the same significantly reduced upward mobility rates. It is the Southeast and industrial Midwest where it’s most difficult to climb the income ladder: cities like Atlanta, Memphis, Raleigh, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Columbus and Cincinnati. It is in the Northeast, Great Plains and West where income mobility rates are the highest: cities like New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Salt Lake City and large areas of Minnesota and California.
The study also cautioned against the assumption of income mobility rates being dependent upon some areas having higher average incomes. In point of fact, upward mobility rates are decidedly different in some metro areas where the average income is similar, like Atlanta and Seattle.
Every study, no matter its comprehensiveness, has its limitations. And this study was not able to address the question of why, as far as the reasons for severely degraded income mobility rates in some regions. These concerns will no doubt be addressed by future studies. For now, it appears that once a family hits its economic nadir in Atlanta, the chances are very slim of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. With its recent filing for bankruptcy, the city of Detroit became the largest city in American history to do so and has become a national symbol of urban decay. What does it say about Atlanta that upward social mobility is actually greater in Detroit than in Atlanta?