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9:32 am
Wed July 24, 2013

Atlanta Ranks Among Lowest in Income Mobility; Mayor Reed Reacts

Mayor Kasim Reed on the study. Show me another city in the South in a Southern state that has been more successful than the city of Atlanta.
Credit kasimreed.net

When it comes to rising out of poverty, where you live really matters. That’s according to a new study on income mobility.

The odds are especially low here in metro Atlanta.

Listen to an audio version of this story.

If you live in the bottom fifth of the income ladder in Atlanta, there’s a 4 percent chance of you moving up that ladder.

Compare that with Seattle. There, your chances would be more than double.

The study was conducted by Harvard and Berkeley economists who compared parents' earnings with their children's earnings. 

Harvard economist Nathan Hendren is one of the study’s authors and says the disparity is not so easy to explain.

“It’s something about these places that seems to really matter for kind of driving these differences," Hendren says. "What we’re trying to do is to pose this incredible variation as a puzzle to be addressed in the coming years.”

While the authors did not find underlying causes, they did notice some patterns.  

“Areas that have higher quality public schools, for example -- so areas where the test scores in grades 3-8 are higher -- you see higher upward mobility,”  Hendren says. 

One thing that was clear, however, was the chances of moving out of poverty were especially low throughout the South.

Mayor Kasim Reed says the study and a New York Times article about the study unfairly targeted Atlanta.

“For whatever reason, if you look at the study, many of its conclusions would be true about the entire South, and have their roots in issues that date all the way back to the Civil War.”

He says Atlanta has made strides in the last 50 years.

"Show me another city in the South in a Southern state that has been more successful than the city of Atlanta."

For now, the study’s authors say more research is needed to find out the underlying causes, and it's up to policymakers to best figure out how to solve them.