As Land of Opportunity, New York Is No Denmark

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Photo by: Per Palmkvist Knudsen, Alex Proimos

A new study by four Harvard and UC-Berkeley economists (including inequality guru Emmanuel Saez) on where in the U.S. it’s toughest to climb the economic ladder got nice placement in the Times yesterday. And if you looked at the handy color-coded chart at the top, you probably noticed that New York City came out fairly well: 9.7% of New York kids raised in the bottom 20% by income made it to the top fifth as adults, compared to just 4% in much of the Deep South.

What the study – and the Times chart – left out, though, is the rest of the world. There, New York comes out looking less rosy. This chart shows the percentage of children raised in bottom fifth by income who reach top fifth as adults:

(The European data is from a 2006 Swedish study; the Canadian data is from a 2010 Pew study.)

In other words, New York may be an easy place to get ahead by U.S. standards, but compared to other industrialized nations, it’s still the land that opportunity forgot.

There are a couple of possible reasons for America’s dismal mobility rankings. First off, income inequality is a lot more extreme in the U.S.: It’s going to be harder to climb a ladder that has a lot more rungs between the rich and the poorThen, too, the Harvard-Berkeley study found that class segregation is a good predictor of poor upward mobility, and the U.S. is king thereLousy schools are another factor.

Either way, while New York may retain bragging rights over Atlanta, if you want to see the American dream in action, you should probably still head to Copenhagen.