Moving from a high-poverty city to a better place improves children’s odds of upward mobility, concludes the Equality of Opportunity study. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter,” according to Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist. Chetty and his colleague Nathaniel Hendren, analyzed earnings data for millions of low-income movers.
Some places provide more opportunity, reports the New York Times.
The places most conducive to upward mobility include large cities — San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I. — and major suburban counties, such as Fairfax, Va.; Bergen, N.J.; Bucks, Pa.; Macomb, Mich.; Worcester, Mass.; and Contra Costa, Calif.
These places tend to share several traits, Mr. Hendren said. They have elementary schools with higher test scores, a higher share of two-parent families, greater levels of involvement in civic and religious groups and more residential integration of affluent, middle-class and poor families.
The place where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is Baltimore, the study found. “Low-income boys who grew up there in recent decades make roughly 25 percent less as adults than similar low-income boys who were born in the city and moved as small children to an average place,” reports the Times.
After the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles 20 years ago, Congress created the Moving to Opportunity experiment. Some poor families got vouchers to move to less-poor, less violent neighborhoods, while a control group did not.
Baltimore was one of the cities in the experiment.
It was considered a failure. Compared to the control group, parents who received the vouchers didn’t earn more; their children didn’t do better in school. “Ten to 15 years after moving, children were no more likely to complete high school, enroll in college or be employed, compared to similar children who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods,” a follow-up study found.
However, children who moved before they were teenagers went on to earn more as adults, conclude Chetty and Hendren, after re-crunching the data. They didn’t escape poverty, but they were less poor.
Low-income parents who find a way to move to a more integrated neighborhood — without a voucher — are motivated, hard-working people. I’d expect their kids to do better.
Even the voucher experiment showed the importance of initiative: Some voucher recipients chose to stay in their high-poverty neighborhoods rather than risk the unfamiliar suburbs.