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Where to Find the 'Opportunity Bargains' of Economic and Social Mobility

A few blue-collar cities proximate to Boston offer case studies of the "opportunity bargains" identified in the 2018 Opportunity Atlas published by Harvard and Brown universities an the U.S. Census.
October 15, 2019, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"Not long ago, a team of economists at Harvard University, Brown University, and the US Census Bureau published an extraordinary study of opportunity in America," writes David Scharfenberg. "And they were able to show with remarkable and often heartbreaking precision that where we grow up — down to the specific neighborhood — can have a profound influence on our prospects for moving up the economic ladder and grabbing a piece of the American Dream."

The study [pdf], "Opportunity Atlas: Mapping the Childhood Roots of Social Mobility," also revealed a surprising success story: the cities of Chelsea, Revere, Everett, and Malden, all just north of Boston on the other side of the Mystic River. Scharfenberg describes these "blue-collar cities" collectively, as "an unlikely engine of upward mobility in a land of greasy spoons and auto body shops and modest two-family homes with chain-link fences."

The study identifies these kinds of place, where relatively affordable neighborhoods can alter the course of low-income children's lives, as "opportunity bargains." Massachusetts does not claim sole possession of such opportunities bargains. There are similar opportunity bargains in Rhode Island, North Dakota, Nebraska, and California, for example. Scharfenberg says there are thousands of opportunity bargains in the country.

The article includes a discussion of the unproven theories about what makes opportunity bargains work, as well as interactive maps to illustrate the Opportunity Atlas's finding in New England.

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Published on Friday, October 11, 2019 in The Boston Globe
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