I missed this report when it came out in November 2018, but I can highly recommend a new study from Bridgespan Group and the National 4-H Council entitled Social Mobility in Rural America: Insights from Communities whose Young People are Climbing the Income Ladder. The study builds on the well-known research of Harvard’s Raj Chetty and others that examines the sad state of economic mobility in the US. Their Opportunity Atlas maps how where we live determines our future economic mobility. The Bridgespan/4H study pivoted from this research and sought to examine what’s happening in rural regions that doing a good job of promoting economic mobility. This field report examines communities in Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nebraska, seeking to understand how these regions help their young people move up the economic ladder.
The report offers some good questions that any community should ask of itself:
- Does our community expect all our young people to participate and stay engaged?
- What support systems are we providing to our youth, and which are most needed?
- Are we imbuing our young people with a sense of possibility and helping them plan accordingly toward a better life?
- Are we providing a wide array of opportunities for youth to build life skills?
- What actions are we taking to extend access to resources and opportunities to all our people, regardless of their income, race, religion, or location?
- What steps are we taking to build the “demand side” of the economic opportunity equation—are we making our community a place where young people want to remain or return to if they leave?
The report also offers hands-on guide to programs and initiatives to promote economic mobility. To summarize, successful communities have high expectation, strong support networks, and a conscious focus on providing good learning opportunities for youth. While the study’s focus is rural, this is good advice for any community.