Special Report

Counties Where the American Dream Is Dead

Thomas C. Frohlich

Detailed Findings

Children living in Shannon County, South Dakota, have the worst odds of earning a decent wage in adulthood. The annual income that children in low-income families are likely to make as adults declines by 1.9% each year they spend in Shannon. At this rate, close to $500 is lost annually from the modest income a child might have earned had he or she grown up in a different neighborhood.

The areas that produce the worst upward mobility challenges for low-income children have several economic characteristics in common. For example, poverty rates in all but a handful of these counties exceed the national poverty rate of 15.5%. In 26, the poverty rate exceeds 30%.

Thirteen of the 50 counties on this list are home to or overlap with American Indian reservations. This includes the bottom four counties, where the vast majority of residents identify as Native Americans. Native Americans are one of the nation’s most economically disadvantaged populations. Unique business regulations, poor services and poor access to amenities, as well as housing challenges are among the limitations contributing to the exceptionally poor economic mobility in these areas.

In 2014, 28.3% of single-race Native Americans. and Alaskan Natives lived in poverty, almost double the national average poverty rate and the highest of any ethnic group.

Unsurprisingly, the counties where children have the best chance for success have below average poverty rates nearly without exception. Previous research has shown that upward mobility is also strongly correlated with low segregation, low inequality, high school quality, and solid family structure.

There is also a gender component to the relationship between home town and economic mobility. Boys’ mobility vary more across areas than girls’mobility, and boys have especially negative outcomes in highly segregated areas.