There is little doubt that America’s class structure is changing. The decline of the working class has given rise to an incredible concentration of both wealth and disadvantage. But our class structure is not just cleaving along economic lines, but across geographic lines as well. For more and more Americans, our zip codes are our destiny, with our ability to achieve economic mobility, pursue our careers, and afford homes dependent on where we live.
More than a decade ago, in my book Who’s Your City?, I argued that the knowledge economy is bringing about an epochal shift in our class structure. The old class distinction between the corporate class and workers was giving way to a new geographically based class division. I identified three new classes: “the mobile” who have the means, education, and capability to move to spaces of opportunity; “the stuck” who lack the resources to relocate; and “the rooted” who have the resources to move, but prefer to stay where they are.
But where are these new classes based? Are some places more filled with the mobile, while other places are home to greater concentrations of the stuck and rooted?
To get at this, my colleague Karen King, a demographer at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, pulled data from the 2017 American Community Survey to chart the share of adults 25 years and older who are currently living in the state where they were born. She did this for all Americans and for different poles of education: Americans who did not complete high school and those who have at least a college degree. My CityLab colleague David Montgomery made the maps.
The map at the top of the page shows the broad pattern. Nearly six in ten Americans (58.5 percent) currently reside in the state where they were born. There is a minuscule difference between men and women: A slightly higher percentage of men (58.8 percent) lived in their birth state compared to women (58.2 percent).
But there is huge variation across states as the map shows. Look at the broad “stuck belt” running across the middle of the country from Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, down through West Virginia, and into the South in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana where 60 to 74 percent of residents live in the state in which they were born. Louisiana tops the list with nearly three quarters of the population native born, followed by Michigan with 72 percent and Ohio with 71 percent.