Spurring economic mobility goal of new WSSU academic center

Richard Carver

Richard Carver, Reporter,
Winston Salem Journal

The cultural and economic divide represented by U.S. 52 has been dissected and debated for decades.

A Winston-Salem State University economics professor hopes that a new center that opens today at WSSU will change that.

The Center for the Study of Economic Mobility will serve as a hub for faculty research, undergraduate student research scholarship and community outreach, said Craig Richardson, the center’s founding director. The goal is generating recommendations to policymakers.

Richardson, who has been at WSSU for nine years, recently served as chairman of the Department of Economics and Finance. WSSU also named Alvin Atkinson, previously director of the Center for Community Safety, as the center’s associate director.

The $3 million in funding comes from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Center for Advancing Opportunity, an initiative supported by a $25.6 million donation from conservative free-market groups Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries. The WSSU center is the first to receive money from the Koch groups’ donation to the Marshall fund.

“The center will pull from the talents of WSSU faculty, as well as some of the top scholars from around the world, and finance original research to identify needs in Winston-Salem,” Richardson said. Scholars will be able to spend up to a year at the WSSU center.

Mayor Allen Joines said he is “very excited about the potential for this research center and the data it may provide to assist in our poverty reduction efforts. I applaud WSSU for its foresighted action to study this critical issue.”

A lack of commercial businesses east of U.S. 52 was cited as a prime example of institutional racism among the editorial conclusions of an award-winning Winston-Salem Journal series on race relations in February 1998.

Richardson said that nearly 20 years later, “it still remains a tale of two cities even with the progress that has been made in the meantime.”

Richardson said he was inspired in particular by a 2015 report from the Equality of Opportunity Project by two Harvard researchers. The researchers determined Forsyth County “is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.”

The researchers found five factors “associated with strong upward mobility” — less segregation by income and race; lower levels of income inequality; better schools; lower rates of violent crime; and a larger share of two-parent households.

The report showed Forsyth doing a poor job overall in upward income mobility for residents. One example cited was estimates for how much 20 years of childhood in Forsyth “adds or takes away from a child’s income compared with an average county.”

For children coming from low-income households, there was a loss of $6,200 in potential income from age 20 to age 26, compared with a loss of $4,280 for children from middle-class households and a loss of $1,930 for children from upper-income households.

The report had similar low rankings for North Carolina’s other urban areas.

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