Residential Segregation and Upward Mobility

450New Orleans         Reports of a new study by economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz looking more deeply at the earning records of millions of families who moved to different addresses found that “poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply higher odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere.”   As the New York Times summarized, “…the city is especially harsh for boys:  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.”

I’m scratching my head just a bit wondering what the news is, in all of this.  Are the headlines simply about the fact that rather than just thinking that families are being trapped in poverty in urban neighborhoods and a lot of rural areas and Indian reservations, that now that we have the numbers, we can prove they are trapped?

God knows we have been tricking ourselves, so maybe that’s the point.  Studies by several independent research teams have found that Americans severely misjudge the amount of upward mobility in society through a self-serving psychological conceit:  overestimating upward mobility is self-serving for the rich and justifies their wealth and for the poor provides hope for a brighter future.  Neither is true, but “what the hey!”

The map, county-to-county, is interesting.  You are in trouble living in Tampa, Orlando, West Palm, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans for sure, and good luck if you live in the Bronx or some parts of Manhattan still.  You live on the Navaho, Northern Cheyenne, or other reservations, luck won’t help you.  The best shot for your family according to the numbers is DuPage County outside of Chicago, if you can afford the rent, and about the same can be said for San Francisco, Salt Lake City – and a whole lot of other places in Utah – Las Vegas, and Providence, as well as some of the suburban counties around them.  You might be able to afford the rent in Altoona and some parts of Pittsburgh.

Sadly for all of the Sunbelt boom, overall if you look at the map of the South your best shot outside of northwestern Arkansas is just getting by and holding your own.   South and North Carolina look like disaster areas or, I guess to be more specific, they look like the Mississippi Delta.  There’s nothing but trouble in all of this.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro says he’s excited about this.  He wants to allocate funding to help families move to higher cost neighborhoods with larger housing vouchers.  This will be an interesting appropriations battle when he goes with that budget to the Republican Congressmen from these suburban districts and asks for more money to move families from the ghetto to their counties.  For a long time residential income and racial segregation has been a concrete ceiling for poverty, and the numbers that prove it aren’t going to be enough to change the hearts and minds of politicians who are committed to no change coming to their areas and the same faces in their electorate.

You can’t have mobility when all the roads are filled with STOP signs.

“Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot – Poverty

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