Why Low-Income Kids Are Thriving in Salt Lake City

Nancy Cook in The Atlantic:

UtahIn the summer of 2013, four prominent economists from Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, named Salt Lake City one of the best places in the country for upward mobility. Low-income kids who grew up in the region, the researchers found, had some of the greatest chances of moving up the income ladder as they aged.

Salt Lake City, with roughly 180,000 residents, shared the admirable distinction with major coastal cities such as San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The list generated significant buzz in academic, economic, and urban-planning circles both for its broad scope and for its finding that where people live can profoundly affect their children's economic futures. The U.S. is no longer uniformly the land of opportunity, the study showed, unless you happened to live in the right place.

For their part, Salt Lake City officials heralded the study as yet another piece of evidence for the region's high quality of life, alongside its low unemployment rate. But for another group of locals—social workers, educators, and community advocates—the study was also a cautionary tale…

To maintain its status as a model for the American Dream, Salt Lake City government officials, civic leaders, and the powerful Mormon church are pursuing various strategies in schools and neighborhoods to try to continue to give lower-income children the best boost up the income ladder.

Salt Lake City still possesses two of the major strengths that made it one of the best cities in the country for upward mobility: a strong middle class and a less extreme gap between the rich and the poor. But what worries Salt Lake City academics and advocates now is that the city has fallen behind on other factors as it has become more global and diverse. “We're beginning to see the start of intergenerational poverty here, whereas we have not seen that in the past,” says Pamela Perlich, a senior research economist with the local Bureau of Economic and Business Research. And that raises questions about whether Salt Lake City, like other rapidly changing urban areas, can continue to provide the best opportunities for its low-income kids.

Read the rest here.