Professor Raj Chetty of Harvard University presented his recent research on place and economic mobility on June 1 at the Brookings Institution. His work utilizes de-identified tax records from more than five million children whose families relocated across counties between 1996 and 2012. The findings support existing research on the importance of place: chances for upward mobility vary not only among nations, but also within the United States. Further, Chetty’s study indicates that when households move from a place that offers low odds for economic mobility to a place where mobility is more likely, children who are younger than 13 at the time of the move fare better than those who are older.
This work, which also finds effects on mobility from racial segregation, income inequality, family structure, social capital and school quality, presents a number of policy options to consider. Some examples from Chetty’s presentation and panel discussion include:
- Constructing public housing in lower-poverty areas instead of where poverty is highly concentrated.
- Investing in areas where economic mobility is currently low with the goal of replicating areas where mobility is higher.
- Making school choice a priority so that children in families unable to move to areas of more opportunity are not forced to attend poor-quality schools.
- Targeting housing vouchers so that families with the youngest children are prioritized since young children stand to benefit the most from moving to an area of opportunity.
Certainly these policy recommendations have been made before, but Chetty’s work utilizes a very large data set to lend heft to the rationale behind them.