A new study shows that minorities are making equal or even better economic gains than whites when moving to new neighborhoods, but adds that white children still populate the most advantaged neighborhoods in the nation. On Aug. 12 at the 102nd annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in New York, Jeffrey Timberlake, UC assistant professor of sociology, presented his paper, “Scratchin’ and Surviving or Movin’ on Up? Two Sources of Change in Children’s Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status.”
Timberlake analyzed data from the 1990 to 1995 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative survey of about 5,000 which families, merged with data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Censuses. He says that the most striking finding from the research was that despite lower average incomes in minority families, residential mobility appears to lessen neighborhood socioeconomic inequality for African-American and Latino children.
“It does appear as though in the early 1990s, when African-American and Hispanic families moved into new neighborhoods, they did as well or better than whites in terms of moving into higher-status neighborhoods. But making that argument is not to say that everything is equal,” says Timberlake, explaining that many more white children live in richer neighborhoods than African-American children. Their economic gains from moving between advantaged neighborhoods may not be as high compared to the gains of African-Americans and Latinos, Timberlake explains, but they still remain in wealthier neighborhoods throughout childhood.
The study also finds that children of white families who stay put in their neighborhoods experience greater economic improvements in those neighborhoods than non-moving African-American and Latino families. Timberlake speculates that those gains may result from job advancements for white heads-of-household, as well as public and private investments in neighborhoods including better schools, roads and police and fire protection.
“Whatever the mechanisms, however, this research reinforces prior findings that children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds experience vastly unequal neighborhood contexts as they grow and develop,” writes Timberlake. He suggests financial incentives to build more integrated neighborhoods and more investments in low-income neighborhoods as possible remedies, but says in the current political and fiscal climate, the chances of such high-cost expenditures appear to be slim.
The study was supported through funding from the National Poverty Center at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and the University of Cincinnati’s Charles Phelps Taft Research Center.
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