South Florida strongest in state for income mobility, according to new study

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When it comes to upward mobility of Floridians, the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale metro area is the most promising place to live, according to a study highlighted in Monday’s New York Times.

The report highlighted the work of a team of researchers from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley who analyzed an enormous database of earnings records to estimate intergenerational mobility — i.e. the chances that a child raised in a low-income household grows up to escape poverty.  Some measures of this look at the chances for a child raised in the bottom fifth of income to end up in the top fifth; and other measures look at children who grow up in the 10th percentile of household incomes in a certain metro area and then estimate, on average, which percentile that generation of children end up in as adults.

Income mobility is a hot topic in economics and academia, as well as among politicos determined to write policy that results in the greatest opportunity for people.

What these researchers found is that larger tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the affluent barely make a dent in income mobility, and that modest or no correlation exists between mobility and the number of local colleges and their tuition rates.

Mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poorer families are more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods, and lowest in areas where people are highly segregated by income.

Income mobility was also higher in areas with two-parent households, better elementary and high schools, more civic engagement, and more membership in religious groups.

In Florida, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale is the only region to fall above the national average for income mobility.  Here, a child who grows up with parents who earn in the 10th percentile ($16,000 per year)  is estimated to end up, on average, in the 38th percentile of income.  About 7% of children in Miami from 10th percentile households will end up in the top income bracket as adults. 

Compared to the nation, the income mobility of low-income children in Florida are about on par with children in other states, and is stronger than their counterparts in other Southern states, with limited exception.  Areas of the Midwest show particularly high income mobility.