July 25, 2013

A ground-breaking study on income mobility conducted by scholars at top universities reveals that the Carroll area affords young people among the best chances in the nation to climb from limited means to financial success.

The Equality of Opportunity Project, involving researchers from Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley, compiled data on more than 700 "commuting zones." The New York Times reports that the study is the "most detailed portrait" of income mobility ever conducted in the United States.

The study shows the Upper Great Plains - and slices of northwest Iowa in particular - with the highest income mobility for children born into families with incomes of $25,000 or less.

In the Carroll area, roughly considered the commuting zone for people who work in the city, the probability of a child from a family in the lower fifth of income levels making it to the top fifth - or being in a family with more than $70,000 in income by age 30 or more than $100,000 annually by age 45 - stood at 18.4 percent. That's better than the top ranked major cities in the United States, and only surpassed in Iowa by the Sioux Center area with a 23.4 percent probability.

Of America's large cities, Salt Lake City (11.5 percent), San Jose, Calif. (11.2 percent), and San Francisco (11.2 percent) showed the highest chances of income mobility. The lowest among major cities were Atlanta (4 percent), Charlotte, N.C. (4.3 percent) and Indianapolis, Ind. (4.8 percent).

Other Iowa cities ranked as follows: Mason City, 14.5 percent; Decorah, 17.6 percent; Marshalltown, 12.3 percent; Waterloo, 13.3 percent; Iowa Falls, 14.5 percent; Cedar Rapids, 12.6 percent; Centerville, 14.5 percent; Storm Lake, 16.8; and Atlantic, 16.1 percent.

According to researchers, strong K-12 school systems appear to be correlated with mobility: areas with higher test scores, lower dropout rates, and higher spending per student in schools had higher rates of upward mobility.

What's more, high-upward-mobility areas tended to have more churchgoers and fewer children raised by single parents.

Lawrence Katz, a labor economist who did not work on the project, told The New York Times that he was struck by the fact that areas with high levels of income mobility were also those that established high school earliest and have long had strong school systems.

All else being equal, the study said, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.