The Agenda

The Pew Center for the States on State-Level Mobility

I find the new Pew study on the Economic Mobility of the States a bit odd. The discussion of geographic mobility of all states in the FAQ is helpful. That said, the absolute mobility findings (the only thing I care about) are striking, particularly when juxtaposed against the findings of the new survey of small business friendliness the Kauffman Foundation prepared with Thumbtack.com. Apart from Utah, which is both small business friendly and high-scoring on absolute upward mobility, the states that fare well on absolute upward mobility are clustered in the small business unfriendly dense states of the Northeast. All of the states that fare poorly on absolute upward mobility are in the South; some do well on the small business friendliness index while others fare poorly. 

Because this survey is, like all mobility studies, retrospective, snapshots of small business friendliness, etc., aren’t necessarily helpful. But I did want to take a quick look at the Index of Family Belonging from the Family Research Council:

Minnesota, Utah rank highest in family belonging; Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada rank lowest: In the typical U.S. state, less than half of teenagers have grown up in intact married families. But in eleven states, a majority of teenagers have been raised by both parents. Minnesota leads the Midwest and the nation with an Index of Family Belonging of 57 percent. Utah leads the West and is second in the nation with 56.5 percent. New Jersey leads the Northeast and is third nationally with a score of 53.6 percent. Other states with more than half of teenagers living with both married parents are, in the Northeast, Massachusetts (51.9 percent), Connecticut (51.3 percent), Vermont (51 percent), and New Hampshire (50.7 percent), in the Midwest, North Dakota (52.5 percent), Iowa (52.2 percent), and Nebraska (51.8 percent), and in the West, Idaho (52.3 percent). No state in the South has a majority of teenagers living with both married parents. Virginia leads the South in family belonging, but even its Family Belonging Index (47.4 percent) is less than half (see Chart 2, page 3).

States in which teenagers are least likely to have grown up with both parents are those with substantial numbers of adults who have not attained a high school diploma, are from minority racial or ethnic backgrounds, and have experienced high unemployment. These states are all in the South and West regions of the country. Mississippi ranks lowest, with an Index value of 34 percent. Barely higher are the western states of New Mexico (37.1 percent) and Nevada (38 percent). Rounding out the bottom ten list are the southern states of Arkansas (38.2 percent), Georgia (38.4 percent), Alabama (38.4 percent), Louisiana (39 percent), Tennessee (39.5 percent), South Carolina (39.6 percent), and Florida (39.7 percent) (see Chart 2, page 3).

Assuming these patterns of family belonging are fairly durable, one wonders if growing up in an intact married family contributes to absolute upward mobility later in life. Might population density also be a plus? Both make intuitive sense to me, but of course I’m biased. Naturally I’m curious as to Scott Winship’s thoughts on the study.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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