Contributed by MDC
What’s one thing that all places in North Carolina have in common? From our booming metros to our small towns, from Roanoke Rapids to Cullowhee, income mobility for low-income young people in this state, and in the South in general, is far worse than in other U.S. regions. It’s surprising to learn that even in our most economically dynamic places like Charlotte and the Triangle, people who grow up in families at the low end of the income distribution are likely to stay there as adults, and only small numbers make it to the middle or top. According to data from the Equality of Opportunity Project, for young people born in the bottom quintile of the income distribution in the Triangle, 37 percent will stay there as adults, another 29 percent will only move up one quintile, and a mere 5 percent will make it to the highest quintile.
Over the past two decades, Durham has moved from a low-skilled, tobacco-reliant community to become the “City of Medicine” and a Southern center of culture and creativity. Its dynamic, knowledge-based economy is a magnet for the health, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and IT industries. Its universities and Research Triangle Park, both created and sustained through a history of public and private investment, are rich in employers and in the middle-skill jobs that pay living wages for new recruits, boasting an employment rate projected to outstrip the state and the U.S. by 2021. Yet, despite this thriving market, too few youth and young adults who grow up in Durham, particularly youth of color, are getting these good jobs, and too few have the academic and workplace skills to compete with more qualified candidates from other cities and states. Many struggle to find their way through a fragmented collection of institutions and organizations that are working to support young people but are not always well-resourced or working together. Much of this reflects Durham’s history as a tobacco and textile manufacturing center, where employment was not conditioned on education or credentialing, along with a legacy of race-based inequity in educational investment and expectations.