Income Inequality and the Fracking Boom


The New York Times had a big feature on Monday looking at how where you live can affect your upward mobility in the US. Researchers from Harvard University and UC Berkeley found stark geographical differences in the likelihood that children will earn more than their parents did, which my colleague Erika Eichelberger covered yesterday.

The researchers looked at millions of tax records and compared the 2011 earnings of people born in 1980 and 1981 to that of their parents. They found that a variety of factors influence social mobility—things like how segregated a town is, the quality of the public school system, and the affordability of local colleges. But one thing that stuck out to me was the high social mobility in places like North Dakota and eastern Montana, which don’t really seem to have many advantages on those fronts. (More than two-thirds of North Dakota public schools failed to meet federal standards this year, for example.) But they do happen to be places with heavy oil development right now, which the NYT article doesn’t really talk about at all.

You can see here that the blue regions of high income mobility fall almost right on top of the Bakken Formation, which has seen a boom in employment and earnings in the past six years:

New York Times

Energy Information Administration

The area around Williston, ND, has the highest chance that a child raised on the bottom fifth of the income scale had made it to the top fifth—33.1 percent—of anywhere in the country. This gibes with the previous news stories about local economies now flooded with cash thanks to the oil boom, which started around 2008 with the advent of new fracking technology.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry also noticed this trend. His piece ends with the declaration that the Bakken Formation “is bringing wealth, prosperity, jobs and upward income mobility to America’s ‘economic miracle state.'”

I would classify it more cautiously. The study looks at a particular year—2011—when the boom near its peak. But a boom is just that—it doesn’t last forever. Nor can every other part of the US rely on tapping into massive oil reserves beneath it as the way to solve income inequality.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate