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Oh, Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Researchers at the Pew Charitable Trust have found that the neighborhood in which a child is raised is a powerful indicator of adult economic success.
July 29, 2009, 2pm PDT | franny.ritchie
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There have been many ideas about how to predict success from childhood environment. The Freakonomics crowd found that the number of books in a child's home was an accurate indication of success in elementary school. The number of words spoken to a child early in life has also been found to predict literacy rates and test scores. But recent research suggests that, over the course of a lifetime, the neighborhood in which a child is raised is the best way to determine their likelihood to remain at or achieve middle-class economic status. "Researchers have found that being raised in poor neighborhoods plays a major role in explaining why African American children from middle-income families are far more likely than white children to slip down the income ladder as adults.

"The Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project caused a stir two years ago by reporting that nearly half of African American children born to middle-class parents in the 1950s and '60s had fallen to a lower economic status as adults, a rate of downward mobility far higher than that for whites."

"Black children in neighborhoods in which poverty fell by 10 percent had higher incomes as adults than those who grew up in areas where the poverty rate stayed the same. This is a sign, they said, that simply improving the overall economy and quality of a given neighborhood can have beneficial effects on those growing up in it.

"The report does not address whether middle-income blacks should move to low-poverty areas for the sake of their children's future prospects. It is a thorny question -- many middle-income blacks have remained in high-poverty areas partly because of segregated housing patterns. And if they were to move elsewhere, the poverty rates in the areas left behind would rise."

Thanks to Franny Ritchie

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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 in The Washington Post
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