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From Farm to Fortune: Understanding the Path to Upward Mobility in Rural America

Undergraduate Thesis
Gabrielle Torrance

Using data from the Opportunity Insights project, Stanford Education Data Archive, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, I examine the path to upward mobility in the rural United States. I aim to understand whether factors contributing to better outcomes for low-income youth differ between rural and nonrural counties, with an eye toward tangible policy solutions. Using cross-sectional analyses, I find demographic factors, including share of single mothers and social capital, play an outsized role in rural mobility. Further, while income segregation is more detrimental to mobility in nonrural counties, single motherhood and migration are more detrimental in rural. In a fixed effects model, controlling for educational opportunity, race, and socioeconomic status, I find race and socioeconomic status explain most within-county variation in mobility, though educational opportunity remains a significant predictor, and achievement scores are relatively more important within rural counties than nonrural. Finally, I conduct a novel analysis of the relationship between agricultural subsidies and rural upward mobility. After controlling for community characteristics, I find no significant correlation between farm subsidies and mobility. The only policy factor which significantly predicts rural mobility is state Earned Income Tax Credit exposure, suggesting rural policy must focus specifically on initiatives aimed at improving outcomes for low-income rural youth.