Madison County ranked among worst counties in the U.S. for income mobility

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - Location is more important than you may think. That's according to a Harvard study that found Madison County is one of the worst counties in the U.S. for income mobility. Especially for the poor.

Job creators are moving in, 21st century schools are being built, and students and schools across the county are nationally recognized for their achievements, but researchers say there's little impact on low-income families.

Madison County ranks 14th worst out of 2,478 counties for income mobility.

"We focused our estimates by parent income - so we mostly focused on people at the bottom of the distribution. So if their parents in the 25th percentile of the income distribution, they might not benefit from all these opportunities one can imagine. "

The study looked at how much 20 years of childhood in Madison County adds or takes away from a child’s income (compared with an average county).

  • Low-income children made $4,640 less than their parents.
  • Average-income children made $2,450 less.
  • Children considered "rich" made $30 more a year in income.
  • The top 1% made $2,120 more on average.

If location is the problem, then what is the solution? The researchers found counties with strong upward mobility had five major things going for them:

  • less racial and income segregation
  • lower-income inequality
  • better schools
  • lower rates of violent crime
  • a larger share of two-parent households

They also made a surprising discovery: small moves can have a big impact.

"We've found within a commuting zone there's a lot of variation. For example if you move a child at birth from Madison County and they grow up in Jackson County instead of Madison the difference in income could be around $5,000 and a bigger move to Cleburne County could be around $7,000. So this is something that is striking for us," said Bergeron.

Obviously, not everyone can or wants to pick up and move. So Bergeron says social mobility efforts must be tackled at a local level.

The full study can be found here.