The Geography of the American Dream

Featuring: The ten best (and ten worst) cities to pursue it

One of the most important lessons from today's blockbuster social mobility report is that place matters. (And, because your parents choose the place where you're born and live, parents matter.)

Tucked into the appendix are two colorful maps of America that tell you where social mobility—the chance to move up the income ladder, a.k.a. The American Dream—is living and where it's not. First, the graphs. Then, five facts. [GlossaryAbsolute upward mobility measures how children stack up to their parents. Relative mobility measures their chances of moving up or down the income ladder relative to their peers. Different measures; similar stories. Lighter colors suggest higher mobility.]

1) The most upwardly mobile region is the Great Plains (followed by the West Coast and the Northeast)

2) The most upwardly mobile cities are Salt Lake City, for moving into the middle class, and San Jose, Ca., for moving into the top quintile. Here are the top ten cities for the American Dream, ranked by absolute (child vs. parent) upward mobility.

3) The losers are the Southeast and Rust Belt (the entire regions, basically) and Charlotte, North Carolina. Here are the ten worst cities for upward mobility.

4) Although the map looks like it's colored by region, there are some huge differences between cities and areas that are just miles away from each other. For example, many Texas areas have high rates of upward mobility, unlike the entire South. Pennsylvania has many upwardly mobile cities, but Ohio fares poorly. Ohio has much lower rates of upward mobility than Pennsylvania. 

5) The race composition of your area seems to matter—not just the race of your family. "Both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility," the researchers write.

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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