This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Where You Live Matters

Every human geographer I know understands that where you live matters. Indeed, it is one of the foci of my own research. So, it was good to see a recent study confirming this, as reported in detail in a New York Times piece this week. The Equality of Opportunity project at Harvard has utilized the anonymized tax records dataset to follow people who have moved out of low-income areas into places where more opportunities exist, and more generally to compare movers with non-movers.
Based on the earnings records of millions of families that moved with children, it finds that poor children who grow up in some cities and towns have sharply better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere.

The feelings heard across Baltimore’s recent protests — of being trapped in poverty — seem to be backed up by the new data. Among the nation’s 100 largest counties, the one where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is the city of Baltimore, the study found.
Beyond Baltimore, economists say the study offers perhaps the most detailed portrait yet of upward mobility — and the lack of it. The findings suggest that geography does not merely separate rich from poor but also plays a large role in determining which poor children achieve the so-called American dream.
“The data show we can do something about upward mobility,” said Mr. Chetty, a Harvard professor, who conducted the main study along with Nathaniel Hendren, also a Harvard economist. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter.”
So, being stuck in a poverty-ridden place is bad for you, as Doug Massey helped us to understand in his PAA Presidential Address 19 years ago. Getting out is good for you, but the unanswered question is how many can get out. If we accept the premise of Steve Ruggles' PAA Presidential address this year, we are heading into a time when there will be fewer wage jobs because of the invasion of technology into the workplace. We are going to have re-engineer the economy, which may influence the spatial options that people have. None of this is likely to happen on its own, however. It is going to require some federal initiatives. The politics will almost certainly be ugly, given the influence that the very wealthy currently have over government decision-making.

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