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Best & Worst Cities for Getting Richer Are...

Study shines light on best and worst cities in America for upward mobility.
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Feel like the odds are stacked against you when it comes to climbing the ladder? You may be on to something. And it may have nothing to do with how hard you're working, or what kind of job you have—but everything to do with what city you're in.

A new study just released the most detailed report yet of the best and worst cities in America for upward mobility; and it's shedding new light on that old adage: it's all about location. According to the report, the greatest chance of movin' on up seems to be happening for families living in the Northeast, Great Plains, and out West, while those living in the Southeast and industrial Midwest are far less likely to climb out of economic hardship.

So which are the "worst" cities to live in if you're looking to get rich? Topping the list of cities with the lowest rates of mobility are: Atlanta, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Indianapolis, Ind., Detroit, Mich., Columbus, Ohio. In contrast, the top 5 best cities are: New York, N.Y., Boston, Mass., Manchester, N.H., Sacramento, Calif. and Pittsburgh, Pa.

“Where you grow up matters,” said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the study’s authors. As he told the New York Times, “There is tremendous variation across the U.S. in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.”

And that's no understatement. As the New York Times article on the study points out, those gaps can be pretty expansive:

On average, fairly poor children in Seattle—those who grew up in the 25th percentile of the national income distribution—do as well financially when they grow up as middle-class children—those who grew up at the 50th percentile—from Atlanta.

Geography mattered much less for well-off children than for middle-class and poor children, according to the results. In an economic echo of Tolstoy’s line about happy families being alike, the chances that affluent children grow up to be affluent are broadly similar across metropolitan areas.

Is your hometown on the list of best or worst cities for upward mobility? If so, are you you surprised at all? Check out the New York Times interactive map to get a closer look at how this is playing out all over the country.

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