Post by Co-Founder Don Siegel
A second, related story that has been emerging is how possible it may be for youth on Train 2 to hop onto Train 1. This, of course, is what I believe most of us working in the out-of-school world are trying to facilitate. Again, while remarkable work is being done, aggregate data shows that jumping from Train 2 to Train 1 is quite difficult. Unfortunately, the data show that once a child is on a train, it appears that they will have to finish their journey on it. Despite the American Dream credo that hard work will lead to great rewards, we see that migrating across the economic spectrum in America is not so simple. Indeed, 65% of people born in the bottom fifth of the family income scale stay in the bottom two-fifths, while 62% born in the top fifth stay in the top two-fifths. There does seem to be a certain “stickiness” to staying in the bracket to which one is born, but data also show 8% of males born in the lowest quintile moving up to the top one. While this is not the norm, it does give us some reason for hope. Actually, I suspect that most of us would be quite happy with just helping kids to catch-up a bit, even if it did not mean making it all the way from the bottom to the top.
A recent report that examines geographical trends in upward mobility in the U.S. seems to shed some light on this issue. In scanning through these data one is struck by how much geography and its concomitants matter in how probable it is for a child who starts in the lowest income quintile to make it to the top quintile in their lives. For example, for a child born in Memphis her probability is 2.6%, while for a child born in Salt Lake City, his probability is 11.5%. While in outright terms, 11.5% is not all that great, the variation in the data is intriguing, and accounting for why such a large difference exists between locales might provide some insight into what we can do to enhance a child’s upward mobility. As well, measures of absolute upward mobility, which measures the income percentile a child reaches who starts at the 25th percentile also provides some hopeful trends. For example, children starting at the 25th percentile in Memphis can be expected to reach the 34.4th percentile, and those growing-up in Salt Lake City, on average, reach the 46.4th percentile.