The political left likes to play the blame game, it is expert at finding a scapegoat. Think back over the last ten years, the scape goat list is vast; Wall Street, banks, CEOs, insurance companies, white men, millionaires and billionaires, the “wealthy” in general, inequality, etc.
What politicians are not so good at doing is looking for the real root causes of problems, explaining them honestly to the American people and accurately evaluating the consequences of their proposals. For example, their solution to inequality (assuming that’s an actual problem) is to tear down the successful, confiscate more of their wealth and do something with it. Often that something is spending more on education as if that is a magic wand and the actions or inactions of the individual and other economic factors are inconsequential. As you can see below, there is more to the issue. If we accept the research explained here, we would be finding ways (incentives) to locate jobs where they are most needed, where they can do the most good. Instead we vilify corporations for buying back their stock to stimulate anti-business feelings.
No one is saying that education does not matter to economic mobility. For individuals, it makes great sense to get a good education, and as much of it as you can. The study’s conclusion is more nuanced: When it comes to the prospects for economic mobility across cities, education is a necessary but insufficient condition. What really matters is the nature of local job markets and the ability of not just individuals, but married couples to use their education and skills in those labor markets to actually make a living.
It is insufficient, the study implies, to hope that better schools will fix the problem of sagging economic mobility. The key to bolstering the American Dream lies in creating better, more dynamic job markets with higher-paying economic opportunities for individuals and families.
The study sheds light on vexing dimensions of spatial inequality in America. Even if we go to schools of equal quality, some of us will have advantages over others based on where we live. In our increasingly spiky, clustered, and concentrated economy, the children of those who live in larger, more dynamic cities and tech hubs will have better access to the job markets, economic opportunities, and partners that propel their long-term economic prospects. Children who grow up in places with less dynamic job markets will have far lower prospects for economic mobility, regardless of the quality of their schools.
The ability to achieve the American Dream is inextricably connected to the increasingly unequal geography of opportunity. Our ZIP codes really are our destinies.