Why It’s So Hard to Get Ahead in the South

In Charlotte and other Southern cities, poor children have the lowest odds of making it to the top income bracket of kids anywhere in the country. Why?

Charlotte ranked dead last in an analysis of economic mobility in America’s 50 largest cities

.. Children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution in Charlotte had just a 4.4 percent chance of making it to the top 20 percent of the income distribution. That’s compared to a 12.9 percent chance for children in San Jose, California, and 10.8 percent change for children in Salt Lake City.

.. much of the South has low mobility rates

.. there are a few key factors that play into where people struggle with economic mobility. These areas tend to be more racially segregated, have a higher share of poverty than the national average, more income inequality, a higher share of single mothers, and lower degrees of social capital

.. The South also has among the highest poverty rates in the country. Mississippi ranks last, Louisiana is 49th, and North Carolina is 39th in the country when it comes to the percentage of people living below the poverty line.

.. in North Carolina, 65 percent of African-American children live in single parent families

.. 77 percent of black students attend majority-poverty schools, while only 23 percent of white students do.

.. “The school system is very racially segregated, housing is racially segregated,” Gene Nichol told me. “When you put that big stew together, it’s hard for people born in economically challenging circumstances to work their way out

.. Southern states have low minimum wages, so many poor people make less than they do in other regions, and have less money to spend on creating opportunities for their children.

.. While states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts spend $15,000 per student on elementary and secondary education, North Carolina spends almost half that, at $8,500 per student

.. Hunt’s mother could earn a decent wage in manufacturing without a college education; now someone without a college degree is stuck struggling in a low-wage job.

.. “We had an economic philosophy in the South, in the Jim Crow era and beyond, that we would lead with cheap labor, cheap land, and low taxes,”

.. the biggest problem in Charlotte is that city leaders are happy to try and tackle the problem of economic mobility, but that they are not as interested in addressing the real problem, which is poverty. “There’s a greater reluctance to engage in programs which fight poverty in the South than in the rest of the country,” Nichol told me.

 .. This, Nichol says, has largely to do with race. People in the South view poverty as a “problem that black people have,” and don’t support programs to fight poverty because those programs are targeted at black people, he said. Research backs this up. As I’ve written before, efforts to cut back welfare and other programs for the poor arose once black people were able to get on those programs—there was widespread support for them when they had been majority white.
.. North Carolina is rolling back benefits for the poor. It eliminated its state Earned Income Tax Credit in 2014, cut unemployment benefits to a maximum of 14 weeks (the lowest in the nation), and made it more difficult for poor people to get food stamps. Benefits for families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are among the lowest in the nation, at just $272 a month. “The link between poverty and race is very strong in the South and in North Carolina,” Nichol said.