Special Report

Counties Where the American Dream Is Dead


To identify the counties where the American dream is dead, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the effect on household income earned in adulthood for every year of childhood spent in 2,973 U.S. counties and county equivalents from data published by The Equality of Opportunity Project. Researchers at the organization used data from 1996-2012 tax returns to study the long-term economic outcomes of approximately 50 million children.

This annual effect on adult earnings is called the exposure effect and is measured as the percent gained or lost from the average annual household income for a 26 year old in the bottom quartile of U.S. earners — $26,090. To find the average income lost per county per year, we multiplied the exposure effect by this income threshold.

The Equality of Opportunity Project publishes economic mobility-related research and data files for public use. It receives funding from Stanford University, Harvard University, the National Science Foundation, and several charitable groups, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The poverty rate for each county came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey and are 5-year averages. January 2018 unemployment figures are seasonally adjusted rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.