Nationwide, the variation is striking. Children raised in poor families in some neighborhoods of Memphis went on to make just $16,000 a year in their adult households; children from families of similar means living in parts of the Minneapolis suburbs ended up making four times as much.There are two adjacent neighborhoods in north Seattle with dramatic differences; children who grow up poor in Northgate earn $5,000 more a year by their mid 30s than those who grew up in adjacent, very similar-looking census tracts, even though they attend the same middle school. As to why:
The local disparities, however, are the most curious, and the most compelling to policymakers.
The researchers believe much of this variation is driven by the neighborhoods themselves, not by differences in what brings people to live in them. The more years children spend in a good neighborhood, the greater the benefits they receive. And what matters, the researchers find, is a hyper-local setting: the environment within about half a mile of a child’s home.Income, this research makes clear, is not everything. Some low-income families and neighborhoods raise many children who end up in the middle class, while others raise many who end up in prison.
Opportunity Atlas, mapped by census tract. Here, using my own neighborhood, is a great example of the things you can do with it. Above is the map showing how much people who grew up poor in each neighborhood earned as adults. You'll need to click on it to see the scale. This is pretty much a map of how locals would assess the quality of each neighborhood. But look closely at the rectangular census tract just to the left of the word "Catonsville."
Winters Lane, from Google Streetview
What distinguishes that tract in the mind of a local is that it includes Catonsville's traditionally black neighborhood along Winters Lane, which has been a black neighborhood since the 1870s. Black kids who grew up in that traditionally black neighborhood do much worse as adults than those who grew up in that big, pale yellow block of Arbutus, even though they attended Catonsville schools, generally considered to be superior to those in Arbutus. But those who grew up in the more heavily black area of Lansdowne, east of Arbutus, have done even worse.
You have to be careful about these maps because of the scale. In some census tracts there will be so few children of one ethnicity or another that a couple of successful or drop-out kids could badly skew the result. But it's still fascinating to play with and ponder.