Nightly News   |  July 22, 2013

Where you live can impact income mobility

A nationwide study found one’s ability to earn more over time is much lower in some parts of the country than others. It’s a slow climb to attain the American Dream in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Columbus, but in other areas such as New York, Boston and large parts of California, moving up is a faster process. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> as we mentioned, fascinating new research out tonight about america's new socioeconomic reality. where you live may determine a whole lot about your life going forward. specifical specifically, your ability to to be upwardly mobile and pursue that american ideal of earning more than your parents did. our report tonight from nbc's mike taibbi .

>> reporter: atlanta is one of the country's most affluent cities, on par with seattle, for example. but given atlanta 's spotty public transportation , struggle school system and geographic separation between economic classes, moving up in class is much tougher. sonia underwood a single mom with three kids and no job after 11 years of hospital employment knows how tough.

>> i ask my family for help. i pray. i pray, because it can get a little stressful.

>> reporter: now a study of millions of anonymous earnings records compiled by economists from harvard and the university of california at berkeley shows the odds of ataken the american dream by region and even city. in art, the study shows there's about a 4% chance of climbing from the bottom fifth to the top fifth in dmk.

>> in contrast, if you're in a city like salt lake city or san jose , that same probability is about 12%.

>> reporter: the statistics show it's a slow climb in cities like atlanta , charlotte, memphis you indianapolis, cincinnati and columbus and a faster climb in new york, boston, pittsburgh, salt lake city , seattle and large parts of california. at this federal job center , most of the position available are part-time jobs with no benefits. many of the applicants resigned to accepting anything at all. but the study shows moving up is linked to several factors, mixed income neighborhoods, good schools, two-parent households and involvement in community and religious life , all present in the l.a. area. chris grant , looking for restaurant work, believes his prospects are good.

>> i'm very optimistic about that i do believe i do have many opportunities ahead of me.

>> reporter: optimism linked not so much to today's economy as to a particular region statistical hold on the american dream . mike taibbi , nbc news, los angeles .