It looks like your best chances of upward mobility is to move to the northeast part of the US, according to a groundbreaking new study from the Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Center on the States. Though the methodology was a bit complex, the long and short of it is that they looked at income changes of Americans in each state over a 10 year period. Additionally, they looked at relative changes in income related to their peers. They looked at this through an upward mobility scale of these Americans or the ability to climb 10 percentile points as it relates to their incomes. They also looked at downward mobility of Americans or the drop in income over 10 percentile points.
Using all three metrics together — absolute income gains, relative upward mobility and relative downward mobility — the researchers determined that New York, New Jersey and Maryland performed best in the country. They were, in fact, the only three states that outperformed the country as a whole on all three measures
Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina were the only states that performed worse than the rest of the country on all three measures.
It was beyond the scope of the study to look at why the states performed the way they did, but the researchers do note come correlations specifically political affiliation, education, assets, and policy. However, there was one factor that had a high correlation with upward mobility: “the willingness to move to another state. People who moved to another state were more likely to get a big income increase, presumably because higher-income opportunities were part of the reason for migrating in the first place.” This is what my wife and I did when we moved from Delaware to New Jersey. We knew that our incomes would cap out in Delaware and that there was much more earning potential in New Jersey. Enough earning potential to off-site the higher cost of living. I also believe that another factor is the Wall Street / Washington D.C. physical continuum. With such a high concentration of wealth in DC and NYC, it comes to no surprise that NJ, MD, and CT are all relatively wealthy states.
This research is not to say that there isn’t upward mobility in other states or that its impossible to be a 1 percenter in Alabama, for example. But the study does show that its a lot easier if you live in the northeastern part of the US. We are lucky enough to have been born and brought up in the general area, so we didn’t have to sacrifice much to move. I don’t know if we would have moved to this area if our families were not here. Moving your family is a big decision and should not be purely a financial one.