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Study: More Auto-mobility Drives Lower Social Mobility

An Equality of Opportunity Project study finds that urban sprawl contributes to lower social mobility in America. Paul Krugman observes, "[D]isadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there." “areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility.”

Paul Krugman's observations on the impact of urban sprawl reminded me of "Automania 2000," the 1963 John Halas animated short the 1963 John Halas animated short I watched at Furman Univerity as part of the first Earth Day observance in 1970. (I was still in high school.) Krugman's column on sprawl is sparked by a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project. Led by economists at Berkeley and Harvard, the study finds an inverse relationship between increased sprawl and decreased social mobility. Eventually, the jobs are literally out of reach. Opportunities are simply too far across town for too many families.

And in Atlanta poor and rich neighborhoods are far apart because, basically, everything is far apart; Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.

Halas lampooned the trend toward over-reliance on the automobile fifty years ago. It seems that the science has finally caught up with the animation. Social mobility is being killed off by dependence on auto-mobility, driven by "a significant negative correlation between residential segregation — different social classes living far apart — and the ability of the poor to rise." Areas with a smaller middle class, both in the inner-city and the suburbs, have lower rates of social mobility.

Krugman cites sociologist William Julius Wilson, who found that the prevalence of single mothers was more an effect than the cause of the disintegration of families. The lack of accessible good jobs was a significant driver (pun intended).

Conservatives seem to long for the halcyon days of the Cleavers, and have a penchant for blaming the poor for being poor. For it is easier -- as George Zimmerman found -- to see villains in human faces than in the technologies we so enjoy and view as morally neutral.

I have long thought that if our friends on the right really wanted to roll back the years to a time when Ward came home for dinner while it was still light outside, when people knew their neighbors, and when families were more stable, they might best do it by banning television (as Jerry Mander recommended) and the personal automobile. Before those two technologies dominated the social landscape, it was not possible to go to school each day miles away in one direction, to work miles away in another, to a megachurch across town in a third direction, or to hang out with distant friends in a fourth. But then, we love our cars and our TVs. Anyway, who hangs out on the front porch with neighbors you don't know in bedroom- or gated-communities, especially when there is so much to keep up with on TiVo?

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