Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Neighborhood Matters

I've got some food for thought this morning. According to a Pew Center study (as reported in the Washington Post), a hugely determinative factor in individuals' future earnings is the income level of the neighborhood in which they grew up. That is to say that people who grew up in neighborhoods with high poverty levels tended to be poor themselves when they became adults, regardless of their incomes while they were living in the community. Thus, middle class blacks (the focus of the study) who live in high poverty neighborhoods are more likely to have their children lose income as adults than middle class whites who don't live in poor neighborhoods.

That's a really fascinating finding to ponder. It's essentially saying that the neighborhood is more powerful than family influence.

The study doesn't go into what exactly causes the neighborhoods to have such a large (and negative) influence. Some of the immediate culprits that come to mind are schools, crime, peer groups, or just the general culture. It's possible that focusing on any one of those elements would bring about change, but I kind of doubt it. I continue to maintain that if we're serious about fixing urban poverty, we need to address all elements of it. That means more than opening a charter school or flooding an area with cops. If we really want to address urban poverty, we need to change how life fundamentally works in the ghettos. We need better medical care, more child care, job training, improved education, and more. Anything less and we're just sliding backwards.

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