Community poverty reduces social mobility for rural children
Dylan Connor, Assistant Professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University
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Rural America is often portrayed as a distressed place, where the outlooks for communities and rural children is stagnant. This view is supported by the fact that since 1980, almost one in three rural communities have seen increases in poverty of 50 percent or more. But are such worsening conditions a typical feature of rural communities? And what do these dynamics mean for the life chances of rural children? We address these questions by developing a sequence-based analytic framework that examines the impact of the last four decades of rural community change on intergenerational mobility outcomes. We find that rural America’s fortunes are not a monolith but, instead, we reveal 11 distinct community trajectories of rural economic-demographic change. We organize these trajectories under four broad poverty trends that are linked to deindustrialization and long-term racial inequality. We then document particularly harmful effects of chronic or worsening community poverty on the life chances of children growing up in low-income rural households. Given that these effects are evident among rural children from white and non-white households, and even for those who move away from their home areas, community distress is likely having broad and lasting effects on US social mobility.
Dylan Connor is an assistant professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. He uses big data to study the role of geographic forces in shaping human behavior, migration, social mobility and inequality over long periods of time.