A new study offers dramatic visual evidence for the impact that living in different neighborhoods has on the adult success of Evanston children who grew up in low income families.
The Opportunity Atlas prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau and researchers from Harvard and Brown universities makes it possible to identify at the census tract level where children of all backgrounds and races have the best shot at getting ahead.
The data focuses on 20 million Americans in their mid-thirties today looking back to the census tract where they grew up and sorting the grown children’s average earnings, incarceration rates and other outcomes by their parental income level, race and gender.
The study shows that oucomes in adulthood vary sharply from one neighborhood to the next.
For example, in Evanston, the study shows that black children born to low income parents in census tract 8092 in the western portion of the 5th Ward average just $24,000 a year in household income as adults and have an incarceration rate of 4.7 percent.
But black children born to low income parents in census tract 8098 in the eastern portion of the 4th Ward average $41,000 in household income as adults — nearly twice as much and have an incarceration rate of less than 1 percent.
White children born to low income parents in census tract 8993, east of Green Bay Road and south of the North Shore Channel, mostly in the 5th Ward, average $31,000 in household income as adults and have an incarceration rate of less than 1 percent.
But white children born to low income parents in census tract 8096, west of Asbury between Church and Dempster, mostly in the 2nd Ward, average $63,000 in household income as adults and have an incarceration rate of 1.1 percent.
The researchers, in a summary of their report, say the nationwide data also shows that neighborhoods that may provide good outcomes for one racial group may fail to do so for children of another group and that outcomes also vary sharply by gender.
They also say that children who move to a better neighborhood earlier in childhood can increase their adult income by several thousand dollars.
The study concludes that higher-opportunity neighborhoods typically have higher costs of living, but some areas appear to be “opportunity bargains” — places that produce good outomes for children without high rents.
It identifies Chicago’s West Ridge/West Rogers Park neighborhood just south of Evanston as being one of those affordable neighborhoods.
A New York Times report on the study says that city officials in Seattle are using the concept some families with housing vouchers extra rent money to help find a home in one of that city’s high-opportunity neighborhoods.
The Times says researchers don’t know exactly what makes neighborhoods more nurturing for children, although they say more two-parent families and more employed adults seem to make a difference.
They say features like school boundary lines and poverty levels explain only about half of the variation.
Explore the Opportunity Atlas mapping tool here.