Our earlier work has shown that children’s opportunities to achieve the “American Dream” and move up in the income distribution vary substantially across areas within the U.S. because of differences in the quality of their childhood environment. In light of these findings, a key question going forward is how we can improve childhood environments for disadvantaged youth. There are two conceptually distinct approaches to tackling this problem: (1) helping families move to areas that are already “high opportunity” neighborhoods and (2) identifying potential interventions to improve neighborhoods that currently do not provide good opportunities for youth to climb the income ladder.
We believe these two approaches are complementary tools to improve social mobility. The latter approach is more actionable, particularly in light of the fact that the U.S. already spends more than $20 billion per year on housing voucher programs that facilitate moves. However, it faces limits to scalability, as one cannot ultimately move everyone to a different neighborhood. Hence, we believe it is also extremely important to understand what types of local interventions can improve outcomes in communities like Baltimore, where children have much lower odds of success.
This proposal outlines a multi-year research agenda that pursues both of these routes.