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The Role of Neighborhoods in Persistent Poverty

November 17, 2015 at 4:45 PM

Update, November 18:  We’ve updated this post to add a second video clip of the forum.

CBPP’s recent forum, “Poverty and Place: A Dialogue on the Role of Neighborhoods in Persistent Poverty and the Implications for Policy,” featured a presentation by Harvard economist Raj Chetty of his two groundbreaking studies (first video clip below), a talk with Office of Management and Budget Director and former Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan (second clip), and a discussion of Chetty’s work by leading experts on housing, poverty, education, and economic policy.

As we’ve explained, Chetty’s new research finds that children whose families move to better neighborhoods have lower teenage birth rates, higher college attendance and marriage rates, and higher earnings as adults than children remaining in less advantageous neighborhoods.  These findings, together with earlier research, provide powerful evidence that neighborhoods have a large influence on children’s well-being and long-term success.

New York University’s Ingrid Gould Ellen said that Chetty’s research provides “causally compelling evidence that neighborhood and place matter . . . [that] impels us to be attentive to barriers that prevent many low-income families from reaching low-poverty neighborhoods.” Russell Sage Foundation President Sheldon Danziger predicted that it “will reenergize poverty research and the research on neighborhood effects in a way that goes back to … [the noted sociologist] William Julius Wilson.”

And, as Georgetown University’s Sheryll Cashin explained, “What I find powerful about this research [is that] it shows that some places are better than others around segregation. . . .  Telling the stories of the really successful communities [could] help to create a politics where people feel that . . . we can do better for children of all colors.”

Participants also discussed the implications of Chetty’s research for public policy.  As Donovan pointed out, the research:

[Shows that] when designed in the right way, safety net programs can have not only immediate but long-term impacts that can improve the life chances of children and families. . . .  We can no longer accept that a zip code where a child grows up should determine their life chances. . . .  We have to do more to give families access to neighborhoods of opportunity . . . [and we] have to do more to create opportunity in those neighborhoods that don’t have it today.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain said that Chetty’s research:

Shows that the families that live around you matter . . . [which] dovetails with other research that shows that families and parenting matter . . . [and] policy has a role to play in strengthening [them].

In followup posts we’ll discuss the two panels that focused on the implications of Chetty’s research for specific policies to increase opportunities for low-income people.  For more on how housing policies can expand neighborhood opportunities for children, see our new report.