Battling Poverty in the South

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Impoverished people in the South have a significantly harder time rising out of poverty.
Image: Shutterstock

A study done over the summer by Harvard and UC Berkley shows a map of upward mobility statistics in the United States.  A story that was popular in the New York Times highlighted the fact that the Southeastern United States has a significantly lower rate of people who can rise out of poverty over their lifetime.  Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina in particular show that most counties have a less than 4% chance for children in the bottom fifth of income earners to rise to the top fifth.

The highest rates of upward mobility appear in areas of North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska.  Most major metropolitan areas: New York, San Fransisco, etc. range from 9-11%, with the exception of Chicago at 6% and Atlanta at 4%.  Rather than criticize the South and its sordid history, however, this study should be looked at as a tool for creating philanthropic opportunity.

As the benchmarks for the bottom and top fifths were set at national levels, it is easy to look at the map and say that jobs paying $70,000 or more to people under thirty are lower occurring in the South.  The disparity, however, is difficult to argue with.  Unemployment, for example, is thought to be about twice the rate for African Americans, the majority population in Georgia and Mississippi, as it is for white Americans.  It is clear that the southern states need a restoration of education, industry and entrepreneurship.

Many advocates are using this data illustrate that the civil rights movement is still not finished.  Minorities still have much lower access to higher education opportunities.  Nonprofits should focus on mentorship, tutoring and youth action programs to help level the playing field.

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