Fiscal Structures and Economic Mobility in the U.S.


Mencoff Hall 205

Rourke O'Brien, Professor of Sociology, Yale University

Abstract: State and Local government spending is a key determinant of place-based variation in social outcomes including upward economic mobility. This study asks: net of the amount of public spending, does the centralization of spending in the hierarchy of U.S. fiscal governance shape the spatial patterning of economic mobility? We use Census of Governments data to construct measures of government expenditure centralization separately for states and county areas. We use data from Opportunity Insights to measure the cross-census tract variation in intergenerational economic mobility outcomes for otherwise similar low-income children. Linear models demonstrate there is less place-based variation in economic mobility outcomes in more centralized fiscal structures. We use our findings to motivate the fiscal sociology of place as a framework to analyze the role of historically conditioned fiscal structures in the production of contemporary inequalities between places, with the potential to reveal novel policy interventions.

Bio: Rourke O’Brien is an Associate Professor of Sociology and faculty fellow of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. Rourke is a social demographer of inequality with substantive interests in public and household finance, economic mobility and population health. Prior to Yale Rourke was on the faculty of public affairs at UW-Madison, completed a RWJF health & society postdoc at Harvard University, and served for two years as a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.