Summarizing research on the Moving to Opportunity program

Here is a brief overview of the sociological findings regarding the federal Moving to Opportunity program that moved poor urban residents to the suburbs in the hope of improving their life chances:

The findings revealed that while many study participants “successfully” escaped dangerous and stressful neighborhoods at first, most did not escape income poverty, and many ended up living back in high-poverty areas after a few years…

The experiment was conducted in five U.S. metro areas: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. While the experiment showed that it was possible to dramatically improve quality of life for the poor, helping them escape poverty was another matter. “Many of us underestimated the barriers to employment, for example, for this highly disadvantaged group, and how small a difference relocation alone would make,” says Briggs, an associate professor of urban studies and planning…

The barriers were the greatest in sprawling Los Angeles, Briggs says. “The physical distances are so enormous, and many jobs are not accessible by public transportation. We spent time with moms who were getting up at 4 a.m. and driving 25 miles in one direction to leave their kids with a family member, and then 30 miles in another direction to work at a job where they might be put on a different shift, on a moment’s notice. The job itself was insecure, volatile, and poorly compensated. Lining up housing, work, and child care, and keeping them aligned, was immensely difficult.”

On the upside were dramatic changes in safety and security, particularly for young girls. They fared better overall in these new neighborhoods, escaping the predatory climate of their old neighborhoods. And parents in the study saw major reductions in anxiety and depression, and improvements in mental health, likely because of increased security and “freedom from fear.”

For more details, I recommend the book Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty. One takeaway: simply moving poor residents from one neighborhood to a better suburban one does not necessarily quickly lead to positive outcomes. Indeed, poverty is on the rise in the suburbs (here, here, and here) and it is difficult to provide services in these communities.

4 thoughts on “Summarizing research on the Moving to Opportunity program

  1. Pingback: DuPage County one of the best counties for poor kids to move up | Legally Sociable

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  4. Pingback: Eight (unlikely and unpopular) policy options for addressing housing issues | Legally Sociable

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