The executive summary reads, in part:
Areas in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals were also particularly likely to have low rates of upward mobility. The quality of the K-12 school system also appears to be correlated with mobility: areas with higher test scores (controlling for income levels), lower dropout rates, and higher spending per student in schools had higher rates of upward mobility. Finally, some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious individuals and fewer children raised by single parents. Each of these correlations remained strong even after controlling for measures of tax expenditures. Likewise, local tax policies remain correlated with mobility after controlling for these other factors.
The South is religious. Like Flannery O'Connor says, we're "Christ-haunted." But it hasn't made us less likely to drop out or to have kids with people we later can't stand to be around.
I also thought Reihan Salam over at the National Review had a good point (I feel kind of icky just typing that) when he said:
In regions like Atlanta, low-wage workers tend to be more isolated from employment opportunities than low-wage workers in regions like San Francisco and New York, which are denser and relatively well-served by transit. This is why I often emphasize the role of increasing density in mitigating poverty. U.S. conservatives tend to be skeptical of efforts to increase density and the mode share of transit. But it is important to keep in mind that these efforts aren’t just complements to direct redistribution. Rather, they might serve as substitutes for it. That is, a denser region well-served by transit might require less in the way of direct redistribution, as poor families will have better access to employment opportunities, which will in turn reduce the demand for direct redistribution.
This is a problem we have here — not just in that Nashville's very segregated by income and our public transportation leaves a lot to be desired. But if you're dirt poor in Cheatham County, and a job you're qualified for is in Nashville, how do you get to it?
To me, this is the most troubling thing about what Salam is saying. People who live where there are no jobs could be incredibly close to a place where there are jobs. And if there isn't some method of reliably getting them to those jobs, it doesn't matter. Not just for that person, but for his kids and his kids' kids.
But it's not like you can just add three floors to every building in Memphis and then round up everyone else in West Tennessee and move them into those empty spaces and solve that part of the state's economic woes.
And people feel like they ought to be able to live where they've always lived, even if there's nothing left there for them to do.
I don't know how you balance a strong attachment to a place, one that might go back generations, with the reality that we, as a nation, are becoming more urban and will need to be more so for the benefit of everyone.
But I know it doesn't matter how many opportunities there are if the people who need them can't take them.