Winston-Salem State University’s Center for Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) launched in September 2017 with a $3 million grant from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO), an initiative supported by The Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries.  The CAO focuses on researching barriers to opportunity in fragile communities. WSSU is the first announced center from CAO. 


Although the county is home to several respected colleges and universities, world-class hospitals and a strong tax base, Winston-Salem is strongly divided by race and income level, especially along the north-south route 52 corridor. This stark contrast in both income and economic mobility was the genesis of exploring why these differences exist.

In fact, research shows that children from low-income families in Forsyth County are less likely to move up the income ladder as adults as compared to kids almost anywhere else in the United States. Only two counties in South Dakota rank lower than Forsyth County. *

The Center for Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM)’s purpose differs from other institutions studying Forsyth County poverty: it aims to explore novel economic, educational and policy solutions that come from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Using the creative talents and skills of Winston-Salem State University faculty and students, CSEM aims to objectively measure impediments to economic mobility, and to provide information that can potentially improve city, county and state policies.

The hallmark of CSEM research is in producing data with measurable outcomes that can potentially change people’s lives. The research takes on special significance if policy lessons can be transferred to other counties in similar straits around the country. The aim of CSEM is to have its research serve as a blueprint for other counties facing similar hurdles with regard to poverty and economic mobility.

*Chetty, Raj and Nathaniel Hendren (2015). “The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood Exposure Effects and County-Level Estimates” Equality of Opportunity Project. See http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/images/nbhds_exec_summary.pdf. Forsyth County’s ranking can be directly seen in The New York Times’ Atlas of Upward Mobility. (Note while Forsyth County is ranked at 2nd in the Atlas, rankings began at zero.). 


CSEM’s goal is to better understand how to spur economic and social development throughout Forsyth County, particularly at the lowest income level. It aims to contribute to the knowledge of solutions that can potentially transfer to improved economic mobility throughout the state and nation.

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The aim is to explore “win-win” opportunities that give positive incentives for all stakeholders to be involved. This means examining bold and innovative policy ideas that will simultaneously improve job opportunities for residents, business profits and strengthen property tax bases.

“It is crucial to understand just what is holding broad-based development and upward mobility back and how that might be changed at the local level,” said WSSU Economics Professor Craig Richardson, who will serve as CSEM’s founding director. “The goal is basically to better understand how to remove barriers to economic and social development across the board.”