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Young people from struggling towns across the U.S. are finding a way to thrive - by moving.

With manufacturing's decline and a widening wealth gap, the key to the middle class for many now is higher education and a willingness to relocate for work.

Census data show that higher-educated the workers move most often and farthest. Those who stay or have less education can be caught in the downward pull of struggling areas.

No comprehensive data contrast the fates of those who stay and those who leave, but there are partial glimpses.

A survey of 2012 Michigan public university graduates, for example, found that 63 percent still lived in the state a year later. But those who moved were far more likely to have full-time jobs and earned significantly more.

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