Climbing out of poverty is a bigger struggle in Charlotte than other large U.S. cities, a new study shows.
The Charlotte area ranked last among the countrys 50 largest metro areas for upward mobility, according to researchers at Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley and the Treasury Department.
The study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, used 2012 data to measure how likely it is for children whose parents are in the bottom 20 percent of the national income distribution to reach the top 20 percent of the income distribution themselves.
Charlottes ranking: 50th out of the 50 largest metro areas and 97th out of the top 100. Charlotte ranked badly in a similar study released last year.
Other cities in the Carolinas performed just as poorly this time. Columbia placed 99th, Fayetteville placed 98th and Greensboro placed 94th.
In Charlotte, its a struggle that Carson Dean sees daily. Dean is the executive director of the Mens Shelter. The shelter sleeps about 325 men a night at its two locations and has put 250 men into housing so far this fiscal year.
A lot of folks that we serve, even if we help them with employment and housing ... theyre going to always be in a pretty precarious situation, Dean said.
The results of the study didnt surprise Randall Hitt, chief advancement officer at Charlottes Community Link, an affordable housing nonprofit.
What we have found is there are jobs out there that are more or less low-income, said Hitt. But there doesnt seem to be anything to notch them into a solid middle class.
Hitt estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of Community Links clients work. Dean said nearly 50 percent of the people at the Mens Shelter have jobs, though many are part-time or seasonal jobs.
Is it likely theyre going to get $10 or $11 an hour? Sure, Dean said. Is it likely theyre going to get $18 or $20? If theyre older, probably not.
Dean, however, said he believed Charlottes leaders are starting to confront the mobility problem.
This weeks study linked several factors with mobility: segregation, family structures, inequality, social capital and school systems.
The study also showed that young Americans from low-income families are as likely to move into the ranks of the affluent today as those born in the 1970s.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike have expressed alarm over what had been seen as diminishing opportunities for economic advancement through hard work and ingenuity.
The study suggests that upward mobility has largely remained the same for generations.
The study found that 9 percent of children born in 1986 to the poorest 20 percent of households were likely to climb into the top 20 percent little-changed from 8.4 percent for such children born in 1971.
Absolutely, we were surprised by the results, Harvard University economist Nathaniel Hendren said. He is one of the reports authors, along with Harvards Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez and Patrick Kline of Berkeley and Nicholas Turner of the Treasury Department.
Worries have been growing across the political spectrum about an expanding divide between Americas rich and the rest: The top 1 percent of Americans accounted for 22.5 percent of income earned in the United States in 2012. That is one of the highest figures since the 1920s and up from a low of 8.9 percent in 1976, according to a database maintained by Saez.
But the fact the top 1 percent are pulling away has had little effect on the ability of those in the bottom fifth to rise to the top fifth, the study found.
The findings are open to different interpretations: They could suggest that government programs to help the poor have made little headway in increasing economic opportunity. Or they could suggest that economic advancement would have become harder without such programs.
My concern is that there may be less mobility in the future, former White House economic adviser Alan Krueger said. The cost of a college education, for instance, is increasingly difficult for low- and middle-income families to afford.
Hendren emphasizes that its still harder to move from poverty to affluence in the United States than in most other wealthy countries.
In a 2012 study of 22 countries, economist Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa found that the United States ranked 15th for social mobility among wealthy countries. Only Italy and the Britain ranked lower.
In some sense, how could it have gotten worse? Hendren said. Its not like were losing the American Dream. We never really had it.
The Associated Press contributed.
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