Forsyth County ranks among the lowest in the country for economic mobility — the opportunity for children born in poverty to achieve the American dream. Winston-Salem State University geography professor Russell Smith and economics professor Craig Richardson have spent years studying the causes and searching for solutions.

On Thursday, they'll be presenting their research, which was conducted at the Spatial Justice Studio and Center for the Study of Economic Mobility, during a joint panel discussion on transportation and inequity on the campus of Wake Forest University. 

They shared this preview with WFDD's David Ford. 

Interview Highlights

On economic mobility:

CR: The idea of upward mobility is something that we envision as a ladder. And the idea of the American Dream is that that ladder has rungs to it that we can walk up if we have that agency and we have that motivation and that ability. But what we see in Forsyth County is that a lot of those bottom rungs are actually sawed off or broken so that people at the very bottom have a very difficult time getting up. Over and over what we see at our center is that transportation is one of the keys that keeps people from getting the medical care that they need, getting the right food choices, and, most importantly, finding that job that does not necessarily lie along a bus line. 

On the hurdles to owning a car:

CR: You need $8,500 a year — that's what AAA estimates — to run an automobile. If you're making $10 an hour working full time, that's a $20,000 [annual] income. So, we're talking about $8,500 a year to run a car taken right off the top of your income. Now you have about $12,000 to live on, or a thousand dollars a month after taking care of the car. So, that entry ticket into upward mobility is very high. 


On the time costs associated with public transportation:

CR: Put this in the context of a car rider. Imagine that if you needed to go to the doctor, you'd have to go to Statesville. Imagine if you worked, you were working in High Point or Lexington and your grocery store is in Pfafftown. Now, imagine if you had to do all that every day, but it wasn't your car. You were getting a lift from somebody else. Think about that as a car rider. Think about how your life would be different, how much time would be consumed on the road, really doing nonproductive activity. That's what we've tried to unveil with our research. It's not about the dollar bus ride. It's about the time. 

On solutions:

RS: When we start telling people that just because the way we build our cities is going to impact certain parts of our population's ability to do well for future generations, that's a huge problem that I think almost everyone wants to see answered. This just isn't an issue of what do you prefer — city life or suburban life. But that actually suburbanization has led to a certain part of our population being excluded from the American dream. 

On renewing urban areas vs. suburban sprawl:

RS: The infrastructure already exists within the urban areas. We have roads, we have water and sewer lines, we have fire stations, we have parks, we have libraries. When you build in the suburbs, all that stuff has to be added. It's new cost. When you redevelop sites that are in closer to the urban center, all of that infrastructure is there and we're actually just using it better. 

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