A New Study Says It's Harder to Get Ahead in Dallas than in Most of America

Categories: News

New York Times
The New York Times opens its sweeping, front-of-the-webpage piece on upward mobility in America with an anecdote about Stacey Calvin, a woman in Atlanta who spends hours each day on buses and trains commuting to and from her part-time job at a daycare center, barely making it home on time to greet her three children after school.

That's a function, the Times' David Leonhardt writes, of "the economic geography of Atlanta." It's a thriving metropolis with a growing population and plenty of good jobs, but it's starkly divided by income. "The low-income neighborhoods here often stretch for miles, with rows of houses and low-slung apartments, interrupted by the occasional strip mall, and lacking much in the way of good-paying jobs."

The same description applies equally well to Dallas, as does the conclusion about economic segregation in Atlanta drawn by the authors of a new study on which the Times story is based: It stifles the American dream and makes it increasingly difficult for poor people to bootstrap themselves up the socioeconomic ladder.

It's not the only factor at play. The researchers also say income mobility is lower in areas with fewer two-parent households, sub-par public education and a low level of civic engagement.

Atlanta has the lowest income mobility of any major city in the U.S., with only 4 percent of children born into the bottom fifth of family income breaking into the top fifth. The number in Dallas is 6 percent, putting us 24th out of the 30 largest metro areas. In San Jose and San Fransisco, which share the lead, it's 11 percent.

That America isn't as upwardly mobile as we all like to think isn't news, but the researchers, who crunched millions of anonymous earnings records, have produced a much more granular, much more localized portrait of the state of the American dream than has previously existed. It's not a particularly pretty picture. Cut down too much on income mobility, and society risks ossifying into castes.

The responsibility for climbing the socioeconomic ladder remains, as it always will, on the individual, but for a long time, a lot of the rungs have been missing. This study gives us a better idea of which ones.

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Yo Lee Iacocca said, “in uh completely rational society, da’bests o' us would be teachers an' da rest o' us would gots ta settle fo' somethin` else.”

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I've had no problem getting head in Dallas.


I wonder how much of North Dakota's mobility is due to the oil boom. (I would imagine a lot.)

And I can't agree more with economic segregation being a root cause of immobility. You live in a crappy apartment with no car, you walk to work at a fast food restaurant or gas station, public transport is minimal. It's very hard to break out of that.

Also, what's happening in West Texas? South Texas also comes out better than I would think.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

The sad part is, on average, the baby boomers and their offspring will do less well economically than the baby boomer's parents.

There are a number of reasons, but more than likely it is due to the shift to the "service economy" in the 1980's, the shrinkage of the middle manager positions; and, the wholesale gutting of America's manufacturing base.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

Hold on.  6%?

That means that you can walk into any classroom in, say, Pleasant Grove or Oak Cliff, and it's likely that at least one, and probably two of the kids in there is likely to grow up to be solidly middle class.

That's pretty amazing odds.  (Also, I'm wondering who the other kid was in my class in Pleasant Grove.)


@DMZ3 Though the authors steered clear of causation, one premise is that it is more about family and neighborhood stability, not race or ethnic background.  NDAK would continue to do well as maybe South and West TX.  Maybe people need to know where they are and were before taking steps to move forward.  Pleasant Grove and other parts of South Dallas are not stable.  Migrations in and out make the neighborhoods relatively varied. 

scottindallas topcommenter

All that's due to low tax rates, which encourage.capital flight and a race to the bottom

Montemalone topcommenter

@everlastingphelps Yeah, ain't it great that one out of 16 or 17 kids will have a job that can support a family and give their kids a future as well.

That's why we have prisons, right? for the rest?

observist topcommenter

@everlastingphelps  In other great news, poor Americans have so much food available they're likely to be fat!  USA!  USA!  USA!

scottindallas topcommenter

Those areas are booming thanks to shale oil jobs

everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Montemalone @everlastingphelps Pretty much.  You can't bullshit me, I was there in the classroom with those mouthbreathing idiots.  When a seven year old realizes that he's in a class full of idiots being taught by an adult idiot, it's not reassuring.  It took a lot of willpower to not just give up right then and there and follow the rest of them into stupidity and crime.

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