Why Place Matters When it Comes to Your Income
By Breann Gala
Thanks to new groundbreaking research by The Equality of Opportunity Project, we have a more detailed picture of income mobility across the U.S. Previous findings highlighted the importance of education, family structure and social capital, whereas this study highlighted the importance of place and diversity.
In essence, your chances of climbing the income ladder are the best in cities like Seattle or Pittsburgh and the worst in places like Memphis or Atlanta (see Chicago Magazine’s interesting blog post on how the South’s history continues to impact economic mobility).
What makes some cities better places for climbing the income ladder? A few indicators for economically mobile areas include a strong middle class, the geographic dispersion of low-income families, high ranking schools and traditional family structures. Concentrated wealth and poverty in particular areas has led to a system that makes quality housing, education, transportation, employment and health care practically inaccessible for low-income people and reduces everyone’s quality of life.
As this New York Times article highlights, income mobility is one of the hottest topics in economics and policy across the political spectrum. The study points to differences in regions, rather than differences in residents, that lead to wide differences in outcomes.
If Chicago is going to be a thriving place that can attract new tech start-ups, promote green manufacturing and remain a vibrant tourist destination, we must work to make the region a place of opportunity where all residents can thrive. The Chicago area has a ways to go: currently a Chicago child born into the bottom fifth percentile (parents earn under $25,000 per year) has just a 6 percent chance of ending up in the top fifth percentile (parents earn more than $107,000 per year).
Here at MPC, we are addressing this growing negative trend through an effort to provide better housing opportunities for low-income families to access and integrate into high-income neighborhoods through the Chicago Regional Housing Choice Voucher Initiative (CRHCI). This groundbreaking pilot is a collaborative and regional effort by a number of public housing authorities to offer incentives and assistance to educate and guide residents who want to move to more vibrant, safer communities. As the Equality of Opportunity Project’s research demonstrates, place matters. The pilot is attempting to help low-income families live in the types of places tmores ill improve their income mobility – those that have better schools, reduce their commuting times and locate them closer to job centers.
My partners and I at MPC are committed to developing collaborative partnerships like this pilot, that at their root are about aligning the region's assets to unlock more potential for everyone who calls pur region home. By working in partnership with a range of public, private and nonprofit leaders, in this case including the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, we are also making sure that what we learn in Chicagoland can improve other regions by leading to more inclusive places across the nation.
Photo Credit: Income Disparity/shutterstock
Since 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has been dedicated to shaping a more sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region. As an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, MPC serves communities and residents by developing, promoting and implementing solutions for sound regional growth.
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