BUSINESS
01/23/2014 10:42 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Where The American Dream Is Dead And Buried

If you dream of one day pulling yourself up by your bootstraps to become the next Bill Gates, there are some places in America where it's somewhat easier to do that than others, a new study reveals.

Cities in the South and the Rust Belt have extremely low levels of economic mobility -- a wonky term that essentially measures one's ability to go from being poor to rich -- according to a study from economists at Harvard University and the University of California-Berkeley.

To put that into more concrete terms: Someone born in the bottom fifth of the income ladder in Atlanta, Georgia, where economic mobility is low, has a 4.5 percent chance of reaching the top fifth of the income ladder, the study found. Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., a city with high economic mobility, the chance of moving up the income ladder is about 11 percent.

In the map below, red indicates low economic mobility while pale yellow represents places with higher economic mobility:

map

So what is it that stifles economic mobility? The researchers found that areas with higher levels of segregation, income inequality and more single parents tend to have worse prospects for mobility. In addition, regions with fewer social networks and poorer school systems are typically worse off.

The one not-so-depressing finding from the report is that economic mobility hasn't slowed over the past few decades, instead it's pretty much stayed the same. That said, while a child's chance of moving up the income ladder hasn't fallen, the rungs on the ladder have grown farther apart (read: income inequality has gotten a lot worse). That means kids today are more affected than ever by their parents' economic status. This chart shows just how bad it's gotten:

ladder

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