Study: County residents have one in nine chance to rise to top income range

By Steve Hansen
QCS managing editor

A nationwide study shows that a Quay County resident raised in a family whose income was in the lowest 20 percent in the nation had a little better than one-in-nine chance of rising to the top 20-percent income range. The study, conducted by economists from Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, focused on individuals born in 1980 and 1981 from the time of their birth through the present.

Quay Countians’ one-in-nine chance, about 10.8 percent, was a little better than the national average of 9.6 percent, study data shows.

A Quay County resident’s odds of rising from the bottom fifth to the top fifth in income was the same as for residents in Lake Charles, La.; Henderson, Ky.; Rapid City, S.Dak.; Salida, Colo.; and Yuma, Ariz. Nationwide, the chance of rising bottom to top ranged from 38.4 percent in Gettysburg, S.Dak., to 2.2 percent in Nome, Alaska, the study’s data shows.

Among New Mexico communities, Hobbs led with 16 percent chance of achieving a bottom-to-top climb; Albuquerque trailed with a 6.7 percent chance. In Guadalupe and Union counties, which border Quay County, there was a 12.6 percent chance for a major income climb. Curry County, another neighbor, scored a 9.1 percent chance.

The study’s authors said in the study’s summary that the results surprised them, since they were trying to find out whether certain tax breaks for the poor correlated with bottom-to-top rises in income. They found a weak correlation between tax policies and rising income, but identified some other attributes that produced stronger correlations.

Factors associated with an increase in the probability of rising bottom to top in a particular area included high-quality schools, religion in the household, and fewer children raised in single-parent households, the study’s summary said. Education system qualities that were associated with large income-level rises include higher test scores, lower dropout rates and higher spending per student.

Areas with smaller middle-class populations and where low-income individuals were geographically separated from middle-income individuals showed less likelihood of producing upward-trending income earners, the study’s authors said.

The study’s authors warn that their findings only established correlations, not cause-and-effect relationships.

Michael Patrick, Community Resource & Economic Development Specialist for New Mexico State University, said he is familiar with Quay County and believes that Quay’s opportunities for regular contact with people from different economic backgrounds could easily account for Quay’s better-than-average showing in this study.

“It depends a lot on who you hang out with,” he said. “Some of that influence will rub off.”

Having access to role models, he said, produces motivation.

In communities where rich and poor are geographically separated, he said, patterns that work against economic betterment are reinforced.

Patrick holds a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from the University of Michigan, and master’s degrees in economics from Michigan State University, and in community development from Southern Illinois University.

Using 2012, data, The upper limit of the lowest fifth in annual household income was $20,026. The average among the highest fifth in annual household income was $178,020. While there would be no upper limit for the highest 20 percent, the ceiling for the next-lowest fifth was $101,582 in annual household income.

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