BENTONVILLE, Ark., July 30, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Today Heartland Forward, a Bentonville, Ark., based think and do tank, with support and data from Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights, published a new report, «Does Geography Determine Destiny?,» that explores economic opportunity in the Heartland. Analyzing county-level data that tracks 20 million Americans from childhood to adulthood, the research finds that economic mobility nationally has been in decline for decades, and the Heartland region is home to some of the country’s highest variances in economic opportunity.

«The data show what too many in the Heartland know personally: opportunity is not distributed equally. Further, the COVID-19 crisis is widening opportunity gaps, especially among communities of color,» said Ross DeVol, co-author of the report and president and CEO of Heartland Forward. «The good news is we know what fosters opportunity: entrepreneurship, education, financial resources and access to the Internet. As we look to rebuild economies in the wake of COVID-19, there is an unprecedented chance for policymakers and community leaders to make structural changes in these areas that will foster inclusive growth, and this report serves as an essential starting point.»

The research finds there is not one singular factor that contributes to economic mobility or lack thereof. Instead, hyperlocal factors such as social circumstances, race, and education are strong indicators of economic opportunity. The data suggests that regional factors like employment growth and migration do not significantly affect economic opportunity.

«Children’s chances of doing better than their parents have been falling for decades—and we are at a critical moment where the opportunity gap between children from low- and high-income families could widen further,» said Raj Chetty, director of Opportunity Insights and the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University. «This analysis puts economic opportunity under the microscope so we can understand what factors create opportunity, and what don’t, as policymakers and community leaders chart a course for the future. The work of organizations like Heartland Forward to champion more inclusive economic growth in the region will be critical to bridging the opportunity gap.»

Key findings from the report include:

  • Since 1940, the likelihood nationally that children will grow up to achieve a higher standard of living than their parents has fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent. The Heartland region’s decline in upward mobility mirrors the broader national trend almost precisely.
  • Children growing up in similarly low-income families across the country have stark differences in their earnings as adults, suggesting that the upward mobility experience is neither universal nor uniform.
  • Within the Heartland, there are children from low-income families who grow up to achieve the highest earnings of their peers—whereas others grow up to attain the lowest earnings. In other words, outcomes in the Heartland are widely varied and the opportunity gaps are stark.
  • Stark opportunity disparities between ZIP codes suggest that the factors most affecting upward mobility are occurring on a hyperlocal scale, such as an individual’s race, their access to education or capital, and whether they grew up in a two-parent household.
  • Broader factors like regional employment growth or migration patterns do not correlate strongly with an individual’s economic success.

To improve opportunity and to turn analysis into action for everyone, no matter where you live or what race you are, policymakers and leaders should focus on three key areas: encouraging new business formation, equipping students with skills necessary for successful careers, and closing the digital divide. Read the full report here.

About Heartland Forward

Heartland Forward’s mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth, and improved health outcomes. We conduct independent, data-driven research to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations.

About Opportunity Insights

Opportunity Insights is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization located at Harvard University that seeks to translate insights from rigorous, scientific research to policy change by harnessing the power of «big data» using an interdisciplinary approach.

SOURCE Heartland Forward