If you're a poor parent (i.e. your annual household income is in the bottom quarter of earners, or south of $27,200), and want your child to have a realistic shot at upward mobility, a recently published Harvard study offers a sure-fire way to boost the kid's chances: get the hell out of Dallas. Move to Cleburne. And do it quickly. Each and every year spent in Dallas is, statistically speaking, a hit on his future income.
That, of course, is a gross oversimplification of the national income-mobility research of Harvard profs Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, which The New York Times on Monday turned into an interactive map. They can't predict that moving any particular kid from Dallas County to Cleburne, in Johnson County, will better his prospects. But their data — tax records from five million U.S. families who moved across county lines over a 16-year period — show that the average poor kid growing up in Dallas County makes 5 percent less at age 26 than a poor kid growing up in an "average" county, while a similarly situated kid in Johnson County will make 18 percent more.
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The Harvard study is a rather blunt instrument, in that it drills no deeper than the county level, meaning it doesn't compare potentially divergent outcomes from kids growing up in South Dallas or Vickery Meadow versus those growing up in Richardson or Duncanville. Thus it doesn't prove, as the headline to a piece yesterday by The Dallas Morning News Jim Mitchell suggests, that Dallas' North-South gap is real — not that further proof is needed. But it does bolster the case that where a kid grows up influences his future success.
The data also lends further credence to the notion that income inequality in Dallas is growing. While Dallas County's poor kids are prone to slip further down the economic ladder, children of families at the top do quite well. Rich kids (i.e. with families in the top quarter of income) make 2 percent more at 26 than if they grew up in an average county. For really rich kids, it's 4 percent.
How to keep Dallas from ossifying into geographically defined caste system? Adequately funding education, particularly pre-K, would be a good start. So would a push toward greater economic integration.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.