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Mecklenburg County is the second worst large U.S. County for upward social mobility of children born into poverty. Yet, Charlotte has the second fastest population growth among large U.S. cities. This is very troubling. Even as our metro area attracts unprecedented growth, our own children are slipping further and further behind the rest of the nation. And it's not just children born into poverty. Even children from average and upper income Mecklenburg households lag the national average in annual earnings when they become adults.
Mecklenburg County is the 2nd worse large U.S. County for upward mobility of children born in poverty. (Source: NY Times)
Transportation certainly isn't the only factor that determines economic mobility, but it is incredibly impactful. An article in today's NY Times titled "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty" reports that the impact of transportation on social mobility is stronger than several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community.
The study emphasized the strong link between availability of public transit and income. The researchers compared neighborhoods by accessibility to mass transit and the number of jobs within an hour’s commute. Residents of the areas least well-served by mass transit relied on personal vehicles. Areas in the middle third — those with some, but insufficient, access to transportation — had the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest incomes, the study found.
The problem is, it's not always an easy task to raise public awareness of the tightly interwoven links between transportation and quality of life. In my outreach role for Sustain Charlotte, I'm often asked to identify the most critical sustainability challenge that Charlotte neighborhoods are facing. I often see puzzled looks when I answer, "Transportation." The well-intentioned asker of the question often follows up with a variant of: "But aren't they facing...you know, more urgent challenges like safety, or poor health, or poverty, or polluted streams?"