Special Report

Counties Where the American Dream Is Dead

simongurney / Getty Images

The allure of the American dream is the promise of equal opportunity, which allows a person achieve any goal. This means economic opportunity and mobility to any American, and especially to new generations. While debate rages on about just how widespread the experience of the American dream is, research certainly indicates it is not uniform across the country.

While opportunities and upward income mobility exist in some areas, they are nearly non-existent in others and have been falling sharply in recent decades.

It used to be that the vast majority of children ended up earning more than their parents. Today, however, the situation is considerably different. According to recent research on intergenerational mobility, approximately 90% of those born in the 1940s earned more than their parents, while only about 50% of those born in the 1980s do.

The Equality of Opportunity Projectnow part of the Opportunity Insights program at Harvard University — considered average incomes of 26-year-olds raised in the bottom quartile of income in 2,973 U.S. counties and county equivalents (such as parishes, boroughs, Census Areas, and certain cities). A 26-year-old from this background who earns more than the national average for the bottom quartile is said to have managed upward income mobility.

The researchers found that neighborhood environments have substantial effects on children’s long-term economic outcomes. The probability of earning in adulthood more than $26,090 — the average annual income for the bottom quartile nationally — declines every year of childhood spent in nearly 1,000 low-income counties. To highlight the substantial geographic variation of this pattern, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 50 counties and county equivalents where the average income losses are greatest.

Children growing up in counties with less concentrated poverty, less income inequality, better schools, a larger share of two-parent families, and lower crime rates are significantly more likely to surpass their parents later in life. The counties where the American dream is dead include some of the worst counties to live in.

Click here to see the counties where the American dream is dead

Methodology

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 percentage 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.

Population figures and poverty rates for each county came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey and are 5-year averages. February 2019 unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: bygenejackson / Flickr

50. Macon County, Alabama
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$201
> Population: 19,358
> Household income per capita: $24,917
> Poverty rate: 25.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.6%

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Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

49. Early County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$201
> Population: 10,405
> Household income per capita: $30,163
> Poverty rate: 27.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.5%

Source: 43436168@N00 / Flickr

48. Fairfield County, South Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$202
> Population: 947,328
> Household income per capita: $28,030
> Poverty rate: 8.8%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.3%

Source: afiler / Flickr

47. Rolette County, North Dakota
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$202
> Population: 14,657
> Household income per capita: $22,565
> Poverty rate: 32.4%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 8.5%

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Source: kamoteus / Flickr

46. Atlantic County, New Jersey
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$203
> Population: 272,926
> Household income per capita: $38,869
> Poverty rate: 15.3%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.9%

Source: Donald Lee Pardue / Flickr

45. Hoke County, North Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$203
> Population: 52,571
> Household income per capita: $24,807
> Poverty rate: 21.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.3%

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Source: Spatms / Wikimedia Commons

44. East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$203
> Population: 446,167
> Household income per capita: $35,064
> Poverty rate: 19.1%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 3.9%

Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

43. Spalding County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$203
> Population: 64,192
> Household income per capita: $31,155
> Poverty rate: 21.6%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.7%

Source: JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ M.D. / Wikimedia Commons

42. Greene County, Alabama
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$204
> Population: 8,533
> Household income per capita: $27,644
> Poverty rate: 38.8%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.7%

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Source: kenlund / Flickr

41. Baldwin County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$204
> Population: 203,360
> Household income per capita: $26,337
> Poverty rate: 11.8%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 3.7%

Source: bobistraveling / Flickr

40. Guilford County, North Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$205
> Population: 517,197
> Household income per capita: $41,339
> Poverty rate: 16.7%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.4%

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Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

39. Terrell County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$205
> Population: 8,978
> Household income per capita: $26,851
> Poverty rate: 35.3%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.0%

Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images

38. Crittenden County, Arkansas
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$206
> Population: 49,278
> Household income per capita: $27,744
> Poverty rate: 23.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.0%

Source: 35875480@N05 / Flickr

37. Gadsden County, Florida
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$208
> Population: 46,113
> Household income per capita: $25,763
> Poverty rate: 24.4%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.4%

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Source: kenlund / Flickr

36. Sumter County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$208
> Population: 13,084
> Household income per capita: $28,432
> Poverty rate: 36.0%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.5%

Source: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons

35. East Carroll Parish, Louisiana
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$210
> Population: 7,318
> Household income per capita: $18,062
> Poverty rate: 48.2%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 10.7%

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Source: gerrydincher / Flickr

34. Robeson County, North Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$212
> Population: 134,187
> Household income per capita: $24,221
> Poverty rate: 29.2%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.0%

Source: clevergrrl / Flickr

33. Hancock County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$214
> Population: 8,667
> Household income per capita: $17,928
> Poverty rate: 30.0%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.3%

Source: formulanone / Flickr

32. Quitman County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$214
> Population: 2,140
> Household income per capita: $22,166
> Poverty rate: 22.8%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.5%

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Source: Matthew Nichols / Flickr

31. Grenada County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$215
> Population: 21,379
> Household income per capita: $26,818
> Poverty rate: 24.2%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.6%

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

30. St. Louis city, Missouri
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$216
> Population: 314,867
> Household income per capita: $30,072
> Poverty rate: 25.0%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.1%

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Source: kenlund / Flickr

29. Genesee County, Michigan
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$217
> Population: 410,881
> Household income per capita: $38,963
> Poverty rate: 20.0%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.9%

Source: nataliemaynor / Flickr

28. Washington County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$218
> Population: 16,746
> Household income per capita: $26,530
> Poverty rate: 22.0%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.2%

Source: Gerry Dincher / Flickr

27. Scotland County, North Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$219
> Population: 4,883
> Household income per capita: $29,071
> Poverty rate: 16.7%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.0%

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Source: bnorwood / Flickr

26. Oktibbeha County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$219
> Population: 49,392
> Household income per capita: $24,040
> Poverty rate: 29.8%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.5%

Source: Matthew Nichols / Flickr

25. Bolivar County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$223
> Population: 33,121
> Household income per capita: $22,311
> Poverty rate: 37.4%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.5%

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Source: Mike Norton / Flickr

24. Sunflower County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$228
> Population: 26,915
> Household income per capita: $18,895
> Poverty rate: 32.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 8.9%

Source: sirmildredpierce / Flickr

23. Allendale County, South Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$229
> Population: 9,402
> Household income per capita: $21,262
> Poverty rate: 30.4%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.4%

Source: nataliemaynor / Flickr

22. Tallahatchie County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$230
> Population: 14,552
> Household income per capita: $21,421
> Poverty rate: 28.3%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.3%

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Source: umnak / Flickr

21. Nome Census Area, Alaska
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$230
> Population: 9,869
> Household income per capita: $29,589
> Poverty rate: 24.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 12.9%

Source: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / Wikimedia Commons

20. Big Horn County, Montana
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$230
> Population: 13,290
> Household income per capita: $20,646
> Poverty rate: 26.8%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 9.2%

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Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

19. Roanoke City, Virginia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$233
> Population: 99,572
> Household income per capita: $34,745
> Poverty rate: 21.6%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 3.3%

Source: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / Wikimedia Commons

18. Dewey County, South Dakota
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$235
> Population: 4,904
> Household income per capita: $19,529
> Poverty rate: 18.6%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 2.0%

Source: Rex_Wholster / Getty Images

17. Hinds County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$235
> Population: 243,249
> Household income per capita: $32,627
> Poverty rate: 23.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.6%

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Source: Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD / Wikimedia Commons

16. Leflore County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$236
> Population: 30,113
> Household income per capita: $23,465
> Poverty rate: 40.3%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 7.3%

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

15. Richmond City, Virginia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$240
> Population: 220,892
> Household income per capita: $35,536
> Poverty rate: 25.2%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 3.7%

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Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

14. Clarke County, Georgia
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$242
> Population: 24,625
> Household income per capita: $26,220
> Poverty rate: 25.3%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 7.6%

Source: nataliemaynor / Flickr

13. Claiborne County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$242
> Population: 9,106
> Household income per capita: $19,485
> Poverty rate: 45.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 8.9%

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

12. Kusilvak Census Area, Alaska
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$245
> Population: 8,129
> Household income per capita: $19,557
> Poverty rate: 39.1%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 22.2%

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Source: BriYYZ / Flickr

11. McKinley County, New Mexico
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$248
> Population: 72,849
> Household income per capita: $19,744
> Poverty rate: 37.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 7.5%

Source: dizrythmia / Flickr

10. Tunica County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$249
> Population: 10,276
> Household income per capita: $22,618
> Poverty rate: 27.0%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 6.2%

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Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images

9. Humphreys County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$254
> Population: 8,678
> Household income per capita: $21,846
> Poverty rate: 40.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 10.2%

Source: Loco Steve / Flickr

8. Glacier County, Montana
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$263
> Population: 13,677
> Household income per capita: $23,252
> Poverty rate: 33.1%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 9.8%

Source: Thomas R Machnitzki ([email protected]) / Wikimedia Commons

7. Coahoma County, Mississippi
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$273
> Population: 24,296
> Household income per capita: $25,675
> Poverty rate: 36.2%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 7.6%

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Source: dbking / Wikimedia Commons

6. Orleans County, Louisiana
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$276
> Population: 41,584
> Household income per capita: $31,246
> Poverty rate: 15.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 5.1%

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

5. Forsyth County, North Carolina
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$286
> Population: 211,300
> Household income per capita: $41,647
> Poverty rate: 6.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 3.2%

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Source: J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

4. Menominee County, Wisconsin
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$313
> Population: 23,389
> Household income per capita: $21,942
> Poverty rate: 13.5%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.1%

Source: afiler / Flickr

3. Sioux County, North Dakota
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$318
> Population: 34,692
> Household income per capita: $16,103
> Poverty rate: 7.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 2.2%

Source: tulioassis / Flickr

2. Todd County, South Dakota
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$441
> Population: 12,377
> Household income per capita: $16,641
> Poverty rate: 20.1%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 4.0%

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Source: Jimmy Emerson, DVM / Flickr

1. Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota
> Avg. income loss per year of childhood residence: -$484
> Population: 14,291
> Household income per capita: $13,647
> Poverty rate: 51.9%
> Feb. 2019 unemployment rate: 8.2%

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