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St. Louis 'average' when it comes to economic mobility, Pew study finds

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 4, 2013 - St. Louis ranks with U.S. cities that are average in terms of economic mobility, according to a report released Wednesday by Pew Research.

The report notes that economic mobility varies widely in the nation’s metro areas but stressed the impact that local communities have in determining the prospects of mobility for residents.

Researchers analyzed 96 cities and found lower economic mobility in those metro areas with distinct pockets of concentrated wealth and poverty. Economic mobility was highest in in metro areas where residents are more economically integrated. They also found that rates of neighborhood economic segregation have increased over time.

Above-average cities included: Boston; Denver; Houston; Minneapolis-St. Paul; San Diego.

Average cities include: St. Louis; Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas-Fort Worth; Detroit; Indianapolis; Los Angeles, Miami; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Francisco.

Below-average cities include: Atlanta; Cleveland; New York; Tampa, Fla.; Washington, D.C.

The report, "Mobility and the Metropolis: How Communities Factor Into Economic Mobility,” used national economic data to analyze how opportunities for mobility are affected when the poor and wealthy live apart from one another. Research was done by Patrick Sharkey, associate professor of sociology at New York University, and Bryan Graham, associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Place matters a great deal for economic mobility, and efforts to create more economic integration at the neighborhood level could promote opportunity in America,’’ said Diana Elliott, Pew research officer.

She emphasized that income inequality is not the driving factor.

"Even in those places that have large differences in the incomes between the richest and poorest households it’s the degree to which their neighborhoods are economically segregated that matters more for economic mobility,’’ she said.

The complete report is available on the Pew website.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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