District By District, Maps Trace Neighborhood Opportunity Across the U.S.

Down to the level of individual census tracts, a team of researchers has developed national maps showing where upward mobility is probable, and where it isn't.
October 10, 2018, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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South Carolina Opportunity Zones

Hearkening back to demographic researcher Dustin Cable's Racial Dot Map, a team of researchers including Harvard's Raj Chetty have worked with the U.S. Census Bureau to assemble a compressive picture of which neighborhoods tend to foster children who get ahead, and which fail to do so.

The Opportunity Atlas, an interactive mapping tool, allows users to pinpoint specific census districts for comparison with the surrounding area, or zoom upward to see how counties and regions fare. According to reporting by Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, "for any government program or community grant that targets a specific place, this data proposes a better way to pick those places — one based not on neighborhood poverty levels, but on whether we expect children will escape poverty as adults."

The researchers, who in addition to Chetty include Nathaniel Hendren at Harvard, John N. Friedman at Brown University, and Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter at the Census Bureau, "believe much of this variation is driven by the neighborhoods themselves, not by differences in what brings people to live in them. The more years children spend in a good neighborhood, the greater the benefits they receive."

The question is whether policymakers, planners, philanthropists, and a whole range of neighborhood stakeholders will be able to use more finely-tuned data on opportunity to change places where "the federal government has spent billions [...] over the years, funneling as much as $500 million into some individual census tracts since 1990."

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Published on Monday, October 1, 2018 in The New York Times
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