Forsyth county is home to several respected colleges and universities, world-class hospitals, and a strong tax base. Yet, in many ways, it remains strongly divided by race and income level. And that's especially true along the north-south route 52 corridor.

Why the stark contrast? And what can be done about it? Researchers at Winston-Salem State University's Center for the Study of Economic Mobility are attempting to answer those difficult questions, and this week, they'll share their insights with the public.

WFDD's David Ford sat down with director Craig Richardson who says the need for helping people move up the economic ladder in Forsyth County has never been greater.

Interview Highlights

How did this study begin?

We're trying to figure out why, according to a recent study by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, that Forsyth County is ranked third from the bottom in the entire United States in terms of economic mobility. The other two are Indian reservations in South Dakota. So what that means is that if you're born poor in this county, the odds of you getting up and out of poverty are worse than nearly anywhere else in the entire country. 

What sorts of hurdles are people in Forsyth County encountering that they have to overcome?

Number one, if you look at the statistics on the financial crash and the housing crisis after 2012, housing values fell almost 50 percent in East Winston, the poor area of the city, whereas on the west side housing values dropped between zero and 10 percent. And what that means is that the people in East Winston took a tremendous hit to their wealth. Many of them had to go into bankruptcy. And that's certainly been trailing them for a long, long time. It makes it just one more challenge for getting up and out of poverty.


Home value decreases of 25-50% or more are represented in various shades of blue (darker blue represents largest decrease) and can be found clustered in East Winston along the east side of Highway 52. (Photo courtesy of CSEM)

You combine that with our transportation system in which we have buses that go on very limited routes. Those routes more or less dictate where people are going to get jobs. And so what we have is people who are extremely ambitious, extremely hardworking, who, if they're relying on the bus system, are really limiting themselves to a very small subset of jobs which means that they have less room to negotiate, less advantage for moving up the economic ladder and in general face much higher hurdles. 

What's a typical way that people in Forsyth County become trapped in a cycle of poverty?

Well it's very easy to start falling into these traps. For example, if a person gets a driving ticket and they don't show up for court--maybe they haven't learned about [it] or they missed that date--they can actually get a suspended license. That could then lead to either somebody driving on a suspended license, which could then lead to incarceration, or it could lead to not driving. And in this town as we know if you have a bus system that doesn't get you to your job, that then leads to a loss of your job. So, what it can create is just this incredible domino effect that happens when somebody makes a simple mistake. There's a trip and then a fall into a pretty deep dark pit that's very hard to get out of.

The Center for the Study of Economic Mobility research fellows will speak at the panel discussion which takes place Thursday evening beginning at 6:00PM at the Enterprise Center, 1922 S. MLK Jr. Drive, in Winston-Salem.

The event is free and open to the public.

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