Journal of Sustainable Social Change


Researchers explore upward mobility to better understand how economic and employment factors drive or undermine social justice and equity in the United States. This scholarship can inform activists and researchers seeking to design solutions that help overcome systemic challenges to upward mobility. Therefore, as an interdisciplinary team of scholars in a public university, we collaborated with community partners to conduct a case study in which we assessed the barriers to—and the drivers of—upward mobility in a medium-sized city in Southeastern North Carolina. We conducted key informant interviews and focus groups with a cross-section of local residents to learn about their experiences securing employment, earning a living wage, and participating in professional development opportunities, as well as identifying promising employees. Our findings indicate that there are multiple barriers to upward mobility in this region. The most commonly cited barriers include affordable housing, the cost of childcare, a prior criminal record, transportation, and racism and discrimination.