A new study on income mobility, which got a big New York Times write up, shows big geographic differences in the ability to rise to the top 20% from the bottom 20%. The cities with the highest mobility are Information Age innovation hubs — San Francisco, San Jose – while the cities with the lowest mobility are former industrial powerhouses — Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit. But at the very bottom was Atlanta, the capital of the New South. The study found that areas “in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals were also particularly likely to have low rates of upward mobility.”
And in Atlanta, that segregation may be partially the result of bad traffic and weak public transit: from the NYT:
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. This geography appears to play a major role in making Atlanta one of the metropolitan areas where it is most difficult for lower-income households to rise into the middle class and beyond, according to a new study that other researchers are calling the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States.
The comparison of metropolitan areas allows researchers to consider local factors that previous mobility studies could not — including a region’s geography. And in Atlanta, the most common lament seems to be precisely that concentrated poverty, extensive traffic, and a weak public-transit system make it difficult to get to the job opportunities.
As it happens, another new study looks at the issue of commute times and unemployment as a way of explaining some of the unemployment gap between African immigrants in France and natives, with application to America:
The unemployment rate in France is roughly six percentage points higher for African immigrants than for natives. Why? This column argues that the explanation is spatial: recent immigrants tend to have much longer commute times. Research suggests that in the region of 20% of the employment gap between the French minority and the French majority can be put down to commute times, but more research is needed, especially in France where research into the ethnic unemployment gap is scarce. …
It appears that the different outcomes across ethnic groups in the housing market are less due to the minority receiving fewer housing offers, than to the minority receiving fewer good offers. That is, while the probability of housing offers can be the same for the minority and the majority, offers to the minority are for dwellings which are located farther away from jobs. This result is consistent with other papers on the French housing market emphasising a substantial degree of spatial mismatch and rising segregration (Bouvard et al. 2009).2
In the US, spatial factors also seem to play a role, and explain 1 to 1.5 percentage points of the difference in unemployment rates between black people and white people. However, this corresponds to only 10 to 17.5% of the total racial unemployment-rate gap because there is a larger absolute difference in unemployment rates.