“The Lingering Stain of Slavery”


As the illuminating map generated by that study shows, children born in some regions—Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif., for example—have a reasonable shot of moving up the social ladder. By contrast, many parts of the former Confederacy, it seems, are now the places where the American dream goes to die.

Why is that true? At first blush, you might guess race could explain the variation. When the study’s authors crunched the data, they found that the larger the black population in any given county, the lower the overall social mobility. But there was more to the story than blacks unable to break the cycle of poverty. In a passing comment, Chetty and his co-authors observed that “both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility.” Far from being divergent, the fates of poor blacks and poor whites in these regions are curiously, inextricably, intertwined.

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9 comments… add one
  • tmheaney Aug 24, 2014

    So, what is it about North Dakota then? What is that state doing, or what economic situation exists there that seems to contribute to social mobility?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2014

      Good question. The analysis provided seems to support the distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies popularized by Edmund Morgan. Slavery existed in every colony/state early on, but its long-term effects linger in the Deep South.

    • Andy Hall Aug 25, 2014

      At the moment it’s fracking — 21st century gold rush up there. It’s a temporary boom, but a big one.

    • JohnM Aug 25, 2014

      North Dakota has been experiencing a boom from oil production for most of a decade now. Not only from the jobs that have been created, but local mineral rights owners have been seeing payments of $50K a month or more.

      The downside is that infrastructure is under enormous strain from the population growth. Some counties have literally doubled in population. Tens of thousands of people have moved to western ND, almost totally to rural areas where the impact is the greatest. There’s been a large growth in crime, especially violent crimes, drug trafficking and prostitution.

  • Hugh Lawson Aug 26, 2014

    This “stain of slavery” metaphor is disturbing, especially when smeared over geographical areas.

  • Christopher Shelley Aug 26, 2014

    Indian Country doesn’t look very good, either.

  • Hugh Lawson Aug 27, 2014

    Most of the referenced study concerned the big leap from bottom quintile (bottom 20%) to top quintile. Making this jump from one generation to the next is unlikely in America. But that doesn’t mean there is _no_ mobility out of the bottom fifth, for there are three other fifths between the top and bottom.

  • Hugh Lawson Aug 27, 2014

    The light blue and white area in eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, and West Virginia stretching up into Pennsylvania is also interesting. What’s going on there? Could coal possibly be causing mobility?

  • Julian Aug 28, 2014

    hey but what about the history of slavery in Alaska 😉 It too has a deep red tint indicating little social mobility

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