Operation False Start

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You spend some years in the Triad and you get a sense of the lay of the land.

We lost our major economic engines and the other big players have either wound down operations or sent the jobs overseas, which amounts to the same thing.

But we persist, buy homes, raise families and reassure ourselves that, though these cities aren’t the most exciting in the country — not even really on the map as far as most Americans are concerned — the weather is great, there isn’t much traffic and, we tell ourselves, it’s great for the kids.

Only it turns out it’s not.

The New York Times, which recently ran a fantastic piece about the Winston-Salem renaissance, issued a report early this week that crunched data regarding upward mobility and earning power of children from poor families in every county in the nation.

And we don’t stack up so good.

Guilford County is among the worst in the United States for income mobility, particularly among poor children, who in adulthood make on average about $4,000 less a year than other Americans raised in poverty.

From the study:

“If you’re poor and live in the Greensboro area, it’s better to be in Randolph County. Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Randolph, the better you will do on average. Children who move at earlier ages are less likely to become single parents, more likely to go to college and more likely to earn more.”

Forsyth is even worse. A lot worse, actually.

Poor kids from Forsyth County will grow up to make more than $6,000 less than their peers in other counties. Forsyth was the second-worst of 2,478 counties included in the study, out of 3,143 in the country.

The bad tidings extend to all income levels. Middle-class kids in Forsyth will make about $4,000 less than their peers. Rich kids, from the 75th income percentile, will make about $2,000 less, as the kids from Guilford will come up about $1,300 short. Even the super-rich kids from the 1 percent get what the Times calls a “pretty bad” deal, with three-figure income gains in the bottom third of the rankings.

It’s unsettling, for everyone growing up here, and particularly every parent who tells herself that growing up in an environment like ours is an advantage her kids will benefit from for the rest of their lives.

To be sure, there are advantages to growing up in North Carolina’s smaller cities. But making money, apparently, isn’t one of them.