Sunday, January 25, 2015

Geography and class mobility, an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee

Foon Rhee of the Bee's editorial board wrote yesterday in a piece headlined, "To Make it to Middle Class, Location Matters."  Here's an excerpt from his California-oriented analysis:
Moving up happens less often for poorer children in the Southeast and Midwest, while it is more common in the Northeast and West, according to the study by top economists at UC Berkeley and Harvard. (Geographic differences don’t mean that much for well-off children; the rich tend to stay rich no matter where they grow up.) 
Mobility is generally better in California, but just as poverty is worse in the Central Valley than along the coast, there’s wide variation in metro areas across the state. 
The odds of making it to at least the middle class are 8 percent for poor children in the Eureka area and 8.3 percent in Fresno, but 11.2 percent in San Francisco and San Jose and 11.8 percent in Santa Barbara. The number is 10 percent in Sacramento, 10.2 percent in Modesto, 10.4 percent in San Diego and 9.6 percent in Los Angeles. 
The researchers found that mobility tends to be higher in areas where the poor are less concentrated and there’s a bigger middle class, and in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary and high schools and more civic engagement.
Sadly, Rhee's piece is quite metro-centric.  The only place he lists that is rural by any measure is Eureka, population 27,191, and the county seat of (barely) metropolitan Humboldt County, population 134,623.  Many folks think of Fresno as rural because it is in the Great Central Valley amidst California's agricultural economy. However, with a population of half a million, Fresno is the fifth largest city in the state.  So, what if you're from Ukiah or Bishop?  What are your chances of ascending from poverty to the middle class? 

Rhee closes with some policy implications for this data:  
[P]oor children in some places need more of a helping hand up the income ladder – from the religious community, from nonprofits and volunteers and, yes, even from government.

1 comment:

Dakota Sinclair said...

I agree that the author of the opinion wrongfully ignored areas that are surrounding areas such as Los Angeles or San Diego, where there are significant opportunities for moving forward for children from military or contractor families who are in rural areas. But those who have parents who are not as well educated or lack the credentials to be involved in a stepping stone such as federal service in on form or another will have a significant, if not insurmountably low chance of moving forward. A key point would be the farm working families, often Hispanic, often earning less than minimum wage, and with children who have to work and help out around the house.

It seems logical that areas that are metropolitan would have a chance to move upwards (and it is a slim chance at that). However to consider towns with 25,000 or more rural is almost laughable. Many communities have a couple hundred, or dozens. Many lack access to basic necessities, like food or water, something that the county seat of Humboldt most likely has.

This seems to relate strongly to the issue of what is rural, what is metropolitan. The author of the piece clearly considered something in the neighborhood of several thousand to fulfill his concept of rural. He should have considered checking the per capita income of the places he cherry picked for his informal comparison and looked for better sources to make sure his thesis was acceptable.