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Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life:

Of course, counties are only imperfect proxies for communities and the neighborhoods where kids grow up. “Spatial inequality” scores included in the DCI provide an even more fine-grained look at within-county dynamics. Spatial inequality is a measure of economic segregation that quantifies the gap in economic well-being across zip codes for counties with at least 100,000 people and composed of at least 5 zip codes. Just over 150 counties where the American Dream appears to be alive and well are large enough to have spatial inequality scores. Nearly three-quarters of those (73 percent) have below-average spatial inequality scores, meaning well-being is broadly shared across zip codes. These places represent the truest manifestations of the American Dream. Thirty-two states have at least one such county, but Wisconsin leads the pack with 10, followed by New Jersey and Virginia with nine each and California with eight.

These prosperous, equal, and mobile counties also tend to exhibit extraordinary economic dynamism: Between 2010 and 2014, 96 percent of these counties experienced job growth, 80 percent saw a net gain in new businesses, and 88 percent increased in population. Where the economy thrives, people thrive, and vice versa. The coincidence of growth, mobility, and prosperity in these locales proves that the American Dream is more than a mirage. Of these prosperous, mobile, and equal places, Norfolk County, MA, exhibits the largest positive childhood exposure effect for kids from low-income backgrounds.