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May 04, 2015

Study: Atlantic County worst, Bucks County best locality for upward mobility

The New York Times' blog Upshot used data from a recent study that looked at income inequality across all U.S. counties to analyze the best and worst places for upward mobility.

The research looked at how much children in low, average, high and top economic brackets added to their average household income each year through the age of 26.

A cumulative total was reached for each county based on their analysis. That number was then compared to the national average for each income level, giving either a negative or positive sum for each economic bracket. For example, if a county's average is a +$1,000 for children in high-income families (75th percentile), that means that a childhood spent in that county will make that child make about a thousand dollars more than a child growing up in the average high-income household by the time they become an adult. 

Bucks County scored very well for children growing up in the poorest families, with the average child adding $3,740 more in average income than the national average of children in the lowest 25th percentile of income. Atlantic County fell on the opposite side of the spectrum, with children adding $4,310 less than than average in the same percentile. 

When it comes to that lowest tier of economic status, the Philadelphia suburbs all outperformed the national average, while Philadelphia and counties in Southern New Jersey all fell below it. Along with Bucks County, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware counties all added, on average, more than the national average for poor children growing up there. Conversely, along with Atlantic County, Philadelphia, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, and Camden counties all added less than the national average. 

Looking just at Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, here's where children fair in each economic bracket by the time they reached adulthood, compared to the national average. (Data from the New York Times).

 25th (Poor)  50th (Average) 75th (High)99th (Top) 
Philadelphia -$760 -$350 +$100 +$470 
Montgomery  +$3,470+$1,530  -$600 -$2,350
Bucks  +$2,050 +$1,690$1,170 +$620 
Chester +$2,240 +2,520 +$2,580 +$2,380
Delaware +$550 +$180  -$210-$520 

It may not seem all that surprising, but the findings suggest that poor and middle income children in the city do far worse financially by early adulthood than those who grow up in the suburbs. One of the main factors needed for upward mobility, according to the researchers, are strong schools, something that Philadelphia has struggled with for a while.

The study was conducted by a two Harvard economists who have done extensive research on economic inequality in the past. They conclude that the area that a child grows up in, as well as how long they spend their childhood there, has an impact on adulthood. 

To look at more data concerning local counties, as well as a breakdown of gender gaps in each economic bracket, check out the full NYT piece here.