ALLENTOWN -- It turns out Pennsylvanians are pretty good climbers.
A new study of government economic data finds that Pennsylvania residents are more upwardly mobile than average, attaining greater heights on the earnings ladder than residents of most other states.
Researchers at Pew's Economic Mobility Project on Wednesday released the first state-by-state look at economic mobility, the ability of workers to improve their financial lot over time compared to their peers.
The study found the average Pennsylvania worker's pay increased by 20 percent over 10 years. Of those who entered their prime working years earning low or moderate incomes, nearly four in 10 clawed their way higher after a decade.
Pennsylvania was one of eight states whose workers were more likely to significantly boost their pay compared to the nation as a whole. The other states, primarily in the Northeast, were Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and Utah. Nine states, all of them in the South, had the opposite result: Residents were more likely to see their peers pass them by.
"The fact that different states' residents experience different rates of mobility means that where you live really matters," said Erin Currier, project manager of the Economic Mobility Project at the Pew Center for the States.
Some lost ground: Pennsylvania didn't do quite as well in a measure of downward mobility. More than a quarter of workers whose incomes put them in the top half lost ground compared to their peers, about the same as the national average.
The study didn't address the factors that caused states to move up or down in the rankings. Previous research by Pew found that postsecondary education and personal savings are drivers of upward mobility, while growing up in a poor neighborhood increases the likelihood of downward mobility.
Overall, it's become more difficult for low-income workers to achieve the American Dream. A Wells Fargo study released last fall showed that workers starting out in poverty were much less upwardly mobile between 1980 and 2009 than they were in the dozen years before, a result the authors blamed on the "relentless forces of globalization."
The Pew study used data from Social Security and the U.S. Census Bureau, tracking nearly 65,000 people born from 1943 to 1958.
The study looked at their earnings over a 10-year period between the ages of 35-39 and 45-49. It didn't take into account the impact of the Great Recession, but researchers said less severe recessions that occurred during the study period didn't have a big impact on economic mobility over time.