Thursday, December 28, 2006
Today's Wall Street Journal has an article ("How Much Does a Neighborhood Affect the Poor?," available here -- the last in an impressive and informative series on poverty) describing the results of an experiment designed to alleviate poverty. Beginning in 1994 and operating in five large cities under the federal government's auspices, the experiment, called "Moving to Opportunity," sought to identify the effects of living in a poor neighborhood in sustaining poverty. The experiment consisted of randomly selecting some residents of a poor neighborhood to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods and then comparing what happened to those who moved with what happened to those who remained behind.
The results are somewhat surprising. First, there appears to have been no statistically significant difference between the average family earnings of those families who moved to low-poverty areas and those who remained in poor areas. "Earnings of families who relocated .. averaged just $9,376 in 2001, a half-decade after they moved. That's just 3 percent higher than the $9,108 of those in the control group [who did not move]."
Second, there was a statistically significant and positive effect on the mental health of those who moved to low-poverty areas. Depression among those who had moved was almost 8 percentage points lower (18.5 percent of those who moved had had periods of depression, while 26.3 percent of those who remained had had them).
Third, young women who moved did significantly better than those who did not, but young men who moved did not do as well as those who remained. "83 percent of [the young women] who relocated to low-poverty neighborhoods graduated from high school or were still in school five years after the move, compared with 71 percent in the control group. Alcohol use was lower. Arrest rates were lower. And mental-health measures improved." But for teenage boys the relocation did not seem to make their lives better. For example, "[f]or property crimes, there were 58 arrests for every 100 boys who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods, compared with 22 arrests for every 100 boys in the control group."
Jeffrey Kling of the Brookings Institution and others have written scholarly articles, which you may access at Kling's website here, about this experiment.