Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The American Dream Is Harder To Find In Some Neighborhoods


John Ydstie
Oct. 1, 2018


A new online data tool being made public Monday finds a strong correlation between where people are raised and their chances of achieving the American dream.

Harvard University economist Raj Chetty has been working with a team of researchers on this tool — the first of its kind because it marries U.S. Census Bureau data with data from the Internal Revenue Service. And the findings are changing how researchers think about economic mobility.

People born in the 1940s or '50s were virtually guaranteed to achieve the American dream of earning more than your parents did, Chetty says. But that's not the case anymore.

"You see that for kids turning 30 today, who were born in the mid-1980s, only 50 percent of them go on to earn more than their parents did," Chetty says. "It's a coin flip as to whether you are now going to achieve the American dream."

Chetty and his colleagues worked with the Census Bureau's Sonya Porter and Maggie Jones to create the The Opportunity Atlas, which is available to the public starting Monday.


Chetty found that if a person moves out of a neighborhood with worse prospects into to a neighborhood with better outlooks, that move increases lifetime earnings for low-income children by an average $200,000. Of course, moving a lot of people is impractical, so researchers are instead trying to help low-performing areas improve.


It's not unusual for a public school in Charlotte to have a student body that's largely people of color. That's because many white students attend private schools or public schools outside their neighborhoods. Those choices can hinder upward mobility for children who attend neighborhood public schools.


Harvard's Chetty says he hopes the Opportunity Atlas will help communities across the country revive the American dream in their neighborhoods.

"We hope citizens, local policymakers, nonprofits, people working on these decisions can use [the data tool] to make better decisions," he says.

The Opportunity Atlas is now available to the public. You can find it at: http://www.opportunityatlas.org/

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