My 19 year old son dreams of living in Alaska one day and my 16 year old daughter wants to be living in New York City in her 20’s. I have this whole dialogue in my mind that goes something like, “But what about me seeing my grandkids?” and “Don’t you realize I’d miss you?” To be honest, that dialogue has slipped right out of my head and through my lips. I can remember aching to get out of this tiny town and be off to bigger-city things. I made it as far as three hours away from here and it only took me seven years to move right back, just in time for my oldest to be born. The truth is, as much as I love our town, I think this would be a pretty tough place to be a 20-something year old and it all centers around ‘opportunity’ and the ability to start a career and earn an income that can equal to what could be earned in other places.
Earlier this year the NY Times released a fascinating study on income mobility. Income mobility measures the odds that a child of poor parents will be able to move up the income ladder. Income mobility for the US has remained steady over the past decades and, as North Carolinians, we are in a geographic region where income mobility is about the lowest it can be compared to other places (a child has the best chances growing up in the Midwest). The data drills right down to the county level where I learned that Henderson County is described as “below average” (even if only slightly so) in helping poor children up the income ladder and that it is relatively worse for poor girls than it is for poor boys. According to the study, here is what a childhood in Henderson County does for future income:
• For poor kids – If a child in a poor family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $20 less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For average income kids – If a child in an average-income family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $420 less (1%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For rich kids – If a child in a rich family were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $800 less (2%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
• For the top 1% – If a child in a family earning in the top 1% for wealth were to grow up in Henderson County, NC, instead of an average place, he or she would make $1,040 less (2%) less in his/her average household income at age 26.
Note: for a family with a parent in his/her 40s, the 25th percentile corresponds to an annual income of about $30,000; the 50th percentile to about $60,000; the 75th percentile to about $100,000; and the top 1% to more than $500,000.
I know I, like my parents did, hope for better for my kids. Basically, we seem to be fairly close to being considered “an average place” even though we are slightly below. The data is fascinating and you can even take a look at it by a child’s gender and see that poor girls do much worse than poor boys, but as family income rises, girls from higher income brackets do better than boys.
Location matters. The study also outlines what it considers to be five key factors for a community to have in place to improve income mobility for its children:
1. Less segregation by income and race
2. Lower levels of income inequality
3. Better schools
4. Lower rates of violent crime
5. Large share of two-parent households
Each one of us may have a different opinion of how we’re doing as a county in each of those factors. I personally have all kinds of thoughts about the influence of family dynamics and the culture of socio-economic class (the whole psychology of poverty) and their impact on all of this. I do encourage you to research for yourself and learn a little more and make investments in community efforts that improve these factors for children. You can start by googling the New York Times article on “The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up How Your Area Compares.” The research links are available below.
I often get asked about what the biggest needs of kids are in our community. I immediately can rattle off the things I seem to continually talk about: affordable housing for families; child homelessness; child hunger; access to affordable, quality child care; access to mental health services for children. It all points back to poverty and I don’t have a quick answer on this. Many of the families we serve at the Children & Family Resource Center are in poverty. They are also employed and working to make ends meet. They do not want to be in poverty. Wouldn’t it be great if we (this community) made investments into those five factors helped change the future for our kids? I think it would be pretty incredible.
Research links :
You can start by googling the New York Times “The Best and Worst Places to Grow up How Your Area Compares” or link here to go straight to an interactive database where you can look at counties all over the US.
This is an interactive map that shows poverty in the US. You can drill all the way down to State and County and see where concentrations of poverty are in Henderson County.