There is a troubling injustice in America’s Black rural South: the same communities that played a disproportionate role in building the nation’s wealth face the highest levels of poverty today. Approximately 30 percent of Black residents in non-metropolitan Southern areas live in poverty—a higher rate than for any other race or ethnic group, urban or non-urban.1

Such poverty is exceedingly difficult for young people to escape. Of the approximately 200 rural counties in the South with Black populations of 25 percent or more (what we here refer to as the “Black rural South” 2), all but two land in the bottom half nationwide for upward mobility for young people.3 And despite the determination of young people in the region and the rich human, social, and cultural capital of their communities, the Black rural South lags behind national averages on many benchmarks, including this one: while over a quarter of the US population lives in the South, only 3 percent of philanthropic dollars nationwide flow to the region,4and only a fraction of that to rural communities of color.

In 2018, The Bridgespan Group partnered with National 4-H Council on a field report, Social Mobility in Rural America. In that report, we identified six factors that may foster economic mobility—the chance to climb the income ladder—present in a subset of rural communities that have been most successful at enabling young people to build pathways out of poverty. We were struck by the common themes across these communities, yet we also know that rural America is not a monolith and that our research touched less than 1 percent of rural counties in the United States. In addition, most of the rural counties featured in our original report that are managing to help their young people transcend poverty do not have meaningfully large Black populations with enduring legacies of slavery.

Given this context, Bridgespan and National 4-H Council have partnered again to focus squarely on economic mobility in the Black rural South. In our conversations with more than 80 nonprofit leaders; Cooperative Extension staff at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs; including those administering 4-H);5 and funders, researchers, and field experts in the region, we found much to be excited about: caring communities and innovative organizations are trying to move the needle on economic mobility for young people. However, we also found that a profound and ubiquitous lack of philanthropic funding hampers these efforts. The Black rural South is at the intersection of three philanthropic funding challenges: rural communities see less funding than their metro counterparts;6 the South as a whole has historically been underfunded; and leaders of color receive less funding than white leaders.7

Read the full article about funding economic mobility by Mike Soskis, Angie Estevez Prada, Mark McKeag, Rich Pierre, and Cynthia Phoel at The Bridgespan Group.