Location, location, location.
Behind this real estate proverb lies a well-documented reality: Where you’re from matters — immensely.
When it comes to income mobility, the neighborhood in which you grow up affects your chances of moving up the economic ladder, according to a 2015 study by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren.
For residents born in Boone County to average-income and poor families, the prognosis is grim. Children from a low-income family in Boone County will make 6 percent, or $1,470, less in annual household income than their peers at age 26, according to a New York Times series based on the study. If the same children were to grow up in Howard County, they’d be making 11 percent — or $2,850 — more than their peers at age 26. If they were to grow up in any neighboring county, in fact, they would be much more likely to achieve upward income mobility.
“(Boone County is) among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder,” according to the New York Times. “Better than only about 17 percent of counties.”
Income mobility, when viewed across generations, is the extent to which children can end up more or less financially secure than their parents. If those children are black, it’s even more difficult to end up on top.
Disparities between whites and blacks in the high school dropout rate, rulings in the criminal justice system, access to primary health care and levels of homeownership reveal just how difficult it is in a county otherwise recognized for its low unemployment rate, availability of health care providers and vaunted place in the community of higher education.
The city of Columbia’s 2016-2019 strategic plan offers a similar narrative when describing its findings. The plan christened the reality in Columbia a “Tale of Two Cities,” noting that, despite the area’s low unemployment rate, the “pain was not equally shared.”
Although the focus of national media coverage on race in the state has been on Ferguson, the 2015 protests at MU, and the NAACP’s travel advisory in 2017, Missouri — a slave state that remained in the Union — has long harbored a collision of disparate ideals common in other border states.
A microcosm of that collision, Columbia’s inequities stem from historical practices such as redeveloping the city’s black business district known as Sharp End through eminent domain or by busing black students from Douglass High School to the predominantly white Hickman High School after Brown v. School Board of Education deemed segregation unconstitutional.
The displacement of the black community in the 1950s and 1960s set the stage for opportunity gaps that still exist today when it comes to education, criminal justice, health care and housing.
City leaders recognized these disparities, noting in the strategic plan that “this imbalance is one of the greatest challenges we face in Columbia, our nation and across the globe.”
This series offers a glimpse into what that imbalance, or opportunity gap, looks like for people on the ground, and how city leaders and community organizations are trying to help close the divide.
The Cradle to Career Alliance has found that black students and students eligible for free and reduced lunch fall behind their counterparts before they enter kindergarten.
Housing segregation continues to depress social mobility in Columbia.
Health disparities between blacks and whites begin in the womb and often carry through their adult lives, research shows.
The "criminalization of poverty" can lead to costly pre-trial detention in jail, legal bills people can't afford and, sometimes, a criminal record that reaps longterm discrimination.
As a final word in the Opportunity Gap series, the Missourian's business team offers you a list of organizations trying to close that gap and how you can join them.