MDRC in the News

A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future

By Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

08/2019

SEATTLE — Jackie Rath says she was sexually assaulted by four different men, including a stepfather and a stepbrother, by the time she was 16. That is also when her mom went to prison for murdering a boyfriend’s lover.

Rath, now 38, was the third generation in her family to endure a traumatized childhood that led to poverty, and now she is a single mom with six children of her own who might also be at risk. But she is part of an experiment unfolding in and around Seattle that shows immense promise in breaking cycles of poverty so that her youngest daughter, Amina, 2, can have the wind at her back.

For all those who think that poverty is hopeless, that nothing can change — read on! The experiment is deceptively simple and cheap: It helps families move to neighborhoods with a proven record of helping kids do better. A major research study about the experiment, co-written by Prof. Raj Chetty of Harvard, has just been published by Opportunity Insights of Harvard. [MDRC is one of Opportunity Insights’ partners in the project.]…..

…..One insight of the study is that although the United States spends $44 billion a year on affordable housing, that money perversely concentrates poverty in blighted neighborhoods. The counterproductive result is that children are sentenced to grow up in areas rife with crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

In contrast, with small tweaks, it turns out to be possible to administer housing vouchers so that families like Rath’s move to neighborhoods that aren’t more expensive but are where children stand a much better chance of thriving…..

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