Washington is Maine’s worst county for upward mobility of children — but another relatively poor county is among the best, according to a nationwide study of the effects of location on income.
The data and analysis of the study were published Monday by the New York Times — and show that kids who grow up for 20 years in Aroostook County have a better chance of making more money later in life than in every other county except for York, which was the state’s top county by this measure.
In dollars and cents, a County kid growing up in a poor family would make $1,460 more a year by age 26, compared with an average American county. Poor kids from York County end up making $2,000 more a year than the national average, according to The Times.
In Washington County, a child would make $1,720 less.
Meanwhile 16.5 percent of Aroostook residents live below the poverty line, according to Census data — compared with 14 percent in the whole state. In Washington County, that number is 19.4 percent. The median household income in Aroostook County is $37,855 — just barely greater than Washington’s, which is $37,236.
York County has one of the lowest poverty rates (11.4 percent) and its median household income is $57,348.
But upward mobility in Aroostook actually is better than 63 percent of other counties in the nation.
Inequality, schools, crime, and whether a kid’s parents are living together affect how well a child can climb the income ladder, according to The Times:
Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In general, the effects of place are sharper for boys than for girls, and for lower-income children than for rich.
The researchers pulled data from tax records on more than 5 million children whose families moved to a new county between 1996 and 2012. They looked at people who moved to avoid variations caused by different kinds of people living in different areas — to isolate the direct impact of the childhood environment.
They found that it matters where you grow up, and the place’s effect increases the earlier you move. So those who move to Aroostook as young children have more potential to earn more later in life than if they moved to Aroostook as teenagers.
In other words, place matters.
As the researchers wrote, “[O]ur findings provide support for policies that reduce segregation and concentrated poverty in cities (e.g., affordable housing subsidies or changes in zoning laws) as well as efforts to improve public schools. The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level by improving childhood environments.”
You can click around on the data here and see how different counties compare.