Richer Regions


I have friends here from all over the country, and that’s been really eye-opening to me. One thing that’s been bothering me more and more is how some areas of our country seem to be doing so much better economically than others. It seems like being born in the “right” city, state, or region can really determine a lot of your future. Do the statistics back up this observation, and if so, what can I do to make things better? I don’t want to live in a country where merely being born in the wrong place can have such dire consequences.

You are, unfortunately, absolutely right: in our country, some regions do better than others. This is hardly unique to the United States, of course, and it can be observed on a smaller scale in states, counties, cities, neighborhoods, and even streets. In our country, the median household in Maryland brings in more than $75,000 a year, while the median household in Mississippi lives off of just over $40,000.

The difference extends to real estate, too. Information on home loans shows us that people pay more for houses in some states than others, and that federal programs like USDA loans (a zero-down-payment program for rural and suburban homebuyers with limited resources) are more heavily relied upon in some regions than in others. The gap is huge: the average home in Hawaii costs $547,600, while the average home in West Virginia sells for $88,900.

This, of course, speaks to one mitigating factor: cost of living. Yes, a person who owns a million-dollar home is sitting on a larger asset than a person who owns a $100,000 property. But even in affluent areas, buying million-dollar properties can be a stretch. And studies show that the cost of living--including everything from those home prices to the price of a gallon of milk at the supermarket--is higher in those affluent areas we’re talking about. While you’re likely to make a lower income in Mississippi than in California, you also won’t have to spend as much to get by.

Still, other indicators suggest that our country has work to do. Education statistics prove that some of these same low-income regions lag in test scores, college graduates, and other key educational indicators. Healthcare statistics show some of the same areas to be less healthy.

The good news is that this may be changing. For instance, more businesses are heading south to areas that once lagged financially. Atlanta has remained a regional center of business while growing to increased national prominence, and nearby areas are seeing a boost in the real estate market and in tourist traffic, says the Henry County, Georgia’s tourist bureau.

We have a long way to go, of course, and the issue comes with more than its fair share of moral and political questions. We’ll leave the debate to you, but you should know that there are some things you can do on your own. Many volunteer organizations exist to help people like you connect with lower-income areas within our own country, and you can volunteer your money or your time (or both) to help people in poorer regions, states, counties, or cities--or even those in poorer neighborhoods right here in your own city.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another. -- Charles Dickens

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