Matthew Yglesias, Slate: Want to Help Poor Kids? Help Their Parents Move to a Better Neighborhood. - Vox
Both normal people and academic sociologists drawn to a qualitative approach have long believed that growing up in a high poverty neighborhood full of struggling adults has deleterious impacts on the life outcomes of children. But among economists, the conventional wisdom has recently been that this is wrong. That’s because in the mid-1990s the federal government was inspired to create the Moving to Opportunity Program which gave 4,600 randomly selected families living in public housing money to move elsewhere.
The lottery design made it possible to do very high-quality research, and the research showed that the program didn’t work. Lottery winners had incomes no higher than lottery losers, and while winners had somewhat better mental health, their children ended up about the same as the children of lottery losers.
A more careful study shows a big boost to young kids
The Chetty, Hendren, and Katz study looks back at this old research and finds that the conclusion was too hasty.
If you disaggregate younger kids from older kids, it turns out that “moving to a lower-poverty neighborhood significantly improves college attendance rates and earnings for children who were young (below age 13) when their families moved.” The reason the old study found no positive impact is that “perhaps because of disruption effects,” kids who moved as teenagers seem to have ended up worse off.
In part due to the higher educational attainment, young lottery winners from the 1990s now have incomes that are 31 percent higher than those of young lottery losers. Lottery winners are less likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods as adults, and less likely to be single parents. These findings suggest that moving to opportunity, if targeted at appropriately young families, can seriously disrupt the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
African-Americans are still suffering from the effects of racism 150 years after the Civil War. Segregated into high poverty dysfunctional neighborhoods, generation after generation live and die in despair. This after the their ancestors’ stolen labor built the foundations of modern industrial capitalism which has made the US the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. We can and should do better, and this shows one major thing we can do better is to integrate the poor into good, functioning neighborhoods so that their children can be raised in decent circumstances.