Schools, Civic Engagement and Upward Mobility


A big new study on upward mobility finds correlations between schools, civic engagement and enhanced odds of escaping poverty.  The New York Times is touting the study as the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States.  Based on millions of earnings records, the study provides “some of the most powerful evidence so far about the factors that seem to drive people’s chances of rising beyond the station of their birth, including education, family structure and the economic layout of metropolitan areas.”

The Times analysis focuses on areas of the country where upward mobility is most and least likely.  Escaping poverty is hardest in Southeast and the Rust Belt; it’s easier in the Northeast, the upper Midwest and the West, “including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.”

From an education perspective–and a civic education perspective in particular–what’s most interesting are the correlations the authors observed between schools, civic engagement and upward mobility.  “The researchers concluded that larger tax credits for the poor and higher taxes on the affluent seemed to improve income mobility only slightly,” the Times reports.  Nor was there much correlation between upward mobility and the presence or tuition costs of local colleges.

“All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.  Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups.”

The Times cites the work of Robert D. Putnam and his book “Bowling Alone,” which made the case that “social connections play an important role in a community’s success.”


  1. […] a post for CitizenshipFirst, Robert Pondiscio outlines the results of a nationwide study that analyzed the factors contributing to income […]

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