Why Dallas Is a Terrible Place to Grow Up Poor — And a Great Place to Be Rich

More reasons for people to justify sprawling out to the suburbs?

New York Times screenshot income inequality study

The new study by two Harvard economists written about in the New York Times this week presents some disappointing data about Dallas County. By looking at the incomes of more than 5 million people who moved, as children, with their families in the 1980s and 1990s, they found that 20 years of growing up in Dallas County led to children who grow up in one of the poorest families (income of less than $30,000/year) earning $1,340 less in annual income than the national average. That’s better than only 19 percent of the other counties in the nation.

On the other end of the spectrum, the children of the Dallas County’s richest families (earning more than $100K/year) made $990 more annually than the average among the nation’s wealthiest — and those in the richest 1 percent of families were $1,900 better off than the average.

Dallas is hardly alone among populous counties in seeing this sort of disparity in outcomes for the rich and the poor. But note also (image above) how poorly it performs as compared to neighboring North Texas counties in serving its poorest. Collin, Denton, Rockwall, Tarrant, Ellis, and (especially) Johnson all see their kids on the lowest end of the economic spectrum do better than the national average.

So what are the causes of these differences?

Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In general, the effects of place are sharper for boys than for girls, and for lower-income children than for rich.

It’s not exactly news to learn that Dallas might improve in all these respects. Until the county — as well as the city — does, it shouldn’t be surprising that folks look at information like this study (and this one, and this one) and find ever more reason to continue sprawling out towards the suburbs.

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