According to a study released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oklahoma did worse than the national average in all three of the study’s measures, which included how much a person’s earnings grew over time.
“The fact that there are differences in mobility by state means that where you live matters,” said Erin Currier, the project manager for Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, “This data’s important for policymakers and the public as we all strive to make sure that all have a chance to achieve the American Dream.”
Maryland, New Jersey, and New York consistently scored above average in the study’s three measures: residents’ average earnings growth over time (absolute mobility), rank on the earnings ladder relative to their peers (relative mobility), and movement up and down that ladder.
Researchers examined earnings averaged between ages 35 and 39 (using data from those in that age group between 1978 and 1997) and compared those numbers to their earnings 10 years later (1988 to 2007).
Pew used restricted Census data to look at adults born between 1943 and 1958 and charted their earnings over time with information from Social Security records.
Currier said, while this particular project did not look for causes, other studies have found that education level, a person’s savings, and whether or not they were born into poverty tend to be driving factors.
But it wasn’t just South Carolinians born in poor households that caused the state to lag behind others. “(South Carolina) residents who are in the top half… are more likely than people in other states to have downward mobility,” Currier said, “They fall down the earnings ladder.”
However, the study found that those who move away from their native birthplace are more likely to see upward mobility– whether they moved to South Carolina or away from it.
Currier said, while national economic mobility studies have been done before, the Pew study is believed to be the first to actually compare state populations against each other.
It is important to note that the study, by its design, was only able to examine those born between 1943 and 1958. Currier said it’s too soon to know if younger generations face the same disparities.