Good Job Markets and Marriage Drive Economic Mobility – CityLab

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.

Source: Good Job Markets and Marriage Drive Economic Mobility – CityLab


  1. See:

    by Aaron M. Renn 05/22/2018

    The Wall Street Journal just ran an interesting interactive feature looking at where college grads move after graduation. They looked at 445 schools, and tracked destinations by metro area. They discovered that graduates, particularly from stronger schools, are flocking to major metro areas. The Big East, Ivy League, Pac-12, Big-12, ACC, and Big Ten are all over 70% in sending college grads to major metro areas (but see below for caveats).

    The Ivy League grads are even more concentrated. A quarter of all Ivy League grads live in New York, Washington, or San Francisco. Relative to population, Washington, San Francisco, and Boston punch well above their weight. Washington comes in #2 to NYC in the number of schools sending more than 2% of their grads there.

    Alas, the Journal selected an unfortunate definition of major metro. They define them as the top 55 metro areas, plus the largest metro in the state, plus the largest metro in any state without one in the top 55, excluding Alaska. I don’t know anyone else slicing data this way. A more typical method would be to look at metro areas with more than a million people, of which there are 53. There are some clear midsized and lower tier cities below that on the Journal’s list, so the midsize city advocates are also going to claim this data for themselves. I can understand why they would want to include every state, but this definition of major metro raises questions about analysis based on it. I would like to see a re-slice, or better yet another field in their interactive tool to allow readers to set threshold sizes.

    I’m also not quite sure what the graphs for schools mean. They are labeled as “Percentage of alumni in each metro area.” The top bucket is greater than 50%, yet some schools (e.g., Wisconsin) have multiple cities in that category.

    College vs. College
    I played around with comparing colleges, particularly within the same state. If we look at Michigan and Michigan State for example, we see U of M’s stronger east coast links. Looking at Indiana vs. Purdue, we see that Purdue has a bigger national footprint.

    City Draws
    I’ve mentioned before that Indianapolis and Columbus draw migrants overwhelmingly from within their own states. The college draw maps confirm this. In fairness, every region in the 1-2 million range I looked at was a regional draw. The city data look like follow some kind of gravity model based on size and distance, so many of the maps look vaguely the same with different origin points.


  2. Interesting, zip codes as economic destiny. Perhaps this can also be stated as Geographic Mobility is a major factor in determining Economic Mobility.

    Wasn’t all that long ago where young families were willing to move to where the jobs are. I wonder if that has changed? I wonder how business formation and relocation varies geographically.

    I can confirm that I moved to Texas in 1982 to take a position in Houston. While that position turned out to be a bad mistake, it set me up in Houston for placement in four months, and three years later, I accepted a position in which I remained for 25 years.

    While that ended up as a successful journey, it is not clear what would have happened had I stayed in the same position in 1982.


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