Conventional national statistics conceal dramatic state-level differences in poverty, income inequality, and economic mobility, a report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality finds.
The 2015 edition of the center's State of the States: Poverty and Inequality Report (61 pages, PDF) found broad differences at the state level in areas such as labor market health, poverty, income inequality, segregation, health and education, and economic mobility. The report, which ranks all fifty states and the District of Columbia, also found that states which score low in one area tend to score low in others, leading to significant disparities among states, and that high-poverty states tend to be clustered in three contiguous areas of the South (East South Central, South Atlantic, West South Central), making it more difficult for people in those states to move to a higher-income state.
According to David Grusky, the center's director and a co-author of the report, the report suggests that "it matters a lot where the stork drops the child." If a child is born in a struggling state, she is at greater risk of "growing up poor and unhealthy, failing to get a good job, and losing out on the American dream."
The report further notes that while some states have adopted a range of policies to address poverty and income inequality, there is only so much any one state can do. "If we continue to limit ourselves to narrow-gauge and piecemeal reform of schools, the safety net, and the economy, then of course we'll likely continue to yield equally small returns," the report concludes. "The alternative to such narrow-gauge efforts is major institutional reform that eliminates fundamental inequalities of access and opportunity."