Measures of Mobility – What Factors Influence Economic Achievement?

What factors most impact upward mobility?
What factors most impact upward mobility?

If you were born into a family at the lower end of the earning spectrum, there is a good chance you will remain there, but if you do move up you likely won’t reach the middle income bracket, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts on economic mobility. The findings from the report, Moving On Up Why Do Some Americans Leave the Bottom of the Economic Ladder, but Not Others?, point to a combination of race, educational attainment and employment as having a strong influence on the likelihood of a person ascending the income ladder.  Specifically, the researchers found that 86 percent of college graduates versus 55 percent of those without a college degree moved up from the lowest category of the income ladder, as did 84 percent of double income families compared to 49 percent of those with one earner.  The accumulation of savings and home equity were also related to upward mobility.

With human capital linked to economic mobility, it makes sense to take a closer look at the external factors that influence the development of one’s knowledge, skill sets and other facets of employability. The 2013 Opportunity Index from Opportunity Nation indicates some overall growth (2.6 percent) in the civic, educational and economic factors that are associated with upward mobility in the United States from 2011 to 2013. An interesting finding was that the zip code tends to be the strongest predictor of achievement – in other words – where one resides and the social, environmental, and institutional factors within that area influence one’s ability to access and successfully leverage opportunity for upward mobility.

Some of the national  findings from the Opportunity Index:

  • 5.8 million youth ages 16 to 24 are not in school and not employed
  • 49 states saw an increase in their poverty rate even as unemployment decreased between 2011 and 2013
  • High school graduation rates and the rate of people with at least an associate’s degree increased during this time period

In Pennsylvania:

  • Unemployment was down, and mean household income was up between 2011 and 2013, but the poverty rate also increased (13.8 percent from 12.5 percent)
  • Preschool enrollment stayed steady at just shy of 50 percent of 3 and 4 year olds, and on-time high school graduation increased to 84.1 percent (from 82.7 percent)
  • The rate of violent crime and adult volunteering decreased

Check out the interactive Opportunity Index to take a closer look data by state and zip code.  The full report with all data and discussion is available for download at the Opportunity Nation website.



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)