According to the Atlantic, “Charlotte is a dead-end for people trying to escape poverty.” The city of Charlotte has the most economic growth in the nation and holds the nation’s top industries and businesses, yet they were still voted fiftieth out of fifty for economic mobility. A research report done in 2014 called the Equality of Opportunity Project states that in this city, “The probability that a child reaches the top quintile of the national income distribution starting from a family in the bottom quintile is 4.4 percent in Charlotte.” At the moment, it seems to be that one can be at a financial advantage if they have generational wealth, had gone to school in Charlotte or had moved to Charlotte with a degree. But why is this the case? Why is it difficult for the residents in one of America’s fastest growing cities to break out of the cycle of poverty?
The Equality of Opportunity Project report finds five aspects that correlate with an increase in economic mobility: a low racial segregation rate, low income inequality in the region to begin with, better public-school systems, greater collective social capital and consistency in family stability.
Although the city of Charlotte takes pride in its diversity, it is one of the most segregated cities in North Carolina. The generational wealth and intertwined racial gap in the community has negatively steered the city away from the first three factors in increasing economic mobility. According to the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) would need to reassign 55 percent of its students to achieve racial parity across its schools, and in the report, the North Carolina Justice Center states that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is by far the most racially segregated district in the state.” Segregated communities tend to integrate when schools integrate, and in 1971, the city advocated for an integration program through school busing. However, in 2001 the Federal Appeals Court deemed this plan unconstitutional, discouraging anymore efforts in the city to better integrate schools. De facto classism is also present in this situation. Because of generational discrimination, primarily Black and Latinx communities in Charlotte are statistically at a larger financial disadvantage, leading them to live in worse housing and attend less-funded schools. CMS literally has income-based learning. Predominantly white schools are better funded because students at these schools have a higher capacity due to their higher family income. This means that they have better graduation rates, test scores, more academic and extracurricular opportunities, etc. This will obviously lead them to have a better future in terms of going to college, having job opportunities and building the fourth factor of social capital. In contrast, low-funded schools which are located and assigned to lower income areas, have fewer opportunities and the National Institutes of Health found that, “a low family income during childhood negatively relates to the development of positive mental health in youth.” Observing the hit on the last factor to an increase in economic mobility, we see that a discouragement in morale through low-income, lack of opportunity, instability in family life and generational marginalization all lead to a repetitive cycle in low economic mobility here in the city of Charlotte.
This leads us to the final question: In this current climate, can the city of Charlotte do anything about these economic and opportunistic inequalities? And if so, why hasn’t anything been done yet?
There are groups within the city who are doing their best to address or positively contribute to overcoming this broad economic mobility problem all while the city of Charlotte has been staying silent. In 2017, the CEO of Bank America, Brian Moynihan, called upon the city council of Charlotte to start taking action on its economic mobility issues. And this is coming from a business, who initiated a “No Poor People” policy. They removed their free checking account option with lower-income customers, requiring them to keep more money in their account to avoid a monthly fee of twelve dollars. The city council has been trying to get together many businesses, non-profits and volunteers in the area to think of ways to combat this issue, but it seems to be that the only way Charlotte can directly combat this problem is when they find a way to integrate different income levels in the community. Raj Chetty’s conclusion from the Equality of Opportunity Project report states that “when low-income families live in mixed-income neighborhoods, the potential for upward economic mobility improves dramatically.” Unfortunately, this is not a conversation most upper-class residents want to have.
This city of Charlotte needs to look forward to what’s better for the common good rather than trying to appeal to the public. History shows, especially in terms of discrimination, that what’s most popular isn’t necessarily what is most just. It takes courage and a push to get equal results. When the city of Charlotte first integrated the busing system through several districts of Mecklenburg County, test scores were even across the board. That was alarming to most upper-class residents as they measured the success of a school through test-scores, but imagine if the policy was still in place: CMS would have higher performing schools because there would be an equal access of opportunity and education to all students in the area, there would not be such a socioeconomic class division, and our economic mobility rate would not be so incredibly low.