Income Inequality and Social Mobility: Data Meets Policy in Providence

Income Inequality and Social Mobility: Data Meets Policy in Providence


CHRISTINA PAXSON:
Good afternoon. Thanks everybody
for coming today. I’m very excited to hear this
discussion on income inequality and social mobility. For those of you who don’t know
me, my name is Chris Paxson. I’m the President of Brown. And I’m really
delighted to welcome you to just superb, interesting
speakers who are here with us today– the mayor of Providence,
Jorge Elorza, and Professor of Economics, John Friedman. And before I start, I
want to thank the James M. and Catherine D. Stone Wealth
and Income Inequality Project for sponsoring this work,
and also more generally for supporting a lot
of great Brown research and teaching in this area. So let me just give a few words
to set up our discussion today. I think that reducing
income inequality and increasing social
mobility in America is one of the most
profound policy challenges that we face right now, both
in Providence, Rhode Island, but around the country– and, indeed, in countries
around the globe. So nearly every
economic report that you can read about income
inequality or wealth inequality, et cetera,
turns up the same findings. This is something where
there is no debate, no controversy in economics. What we know is that income
inequality is on the rise. It has been for some time. Social mobility
is on the decline. And we know that a smaller
fraction of children can expect to attain
a living standard that is greater than their
parents, which is something quite new for this country. And in addition to the
economic consequences, I know a lot of
people are concerned about the implications
of growing income disparities on things like
political polarization, and social cohesion,
and the ability to talk across different perspectives. So that’s the other thing
we’re grappling with. There is no single magic bullet
to fixing these problems. I wish that there was one. And I believe that
it’s really going to take the concerted
efforts of federal, state, and local policy members,
policy organizations, community-based organizations,
as well as think tanks and universities to think about
how we can reduce inequality and increase mobility. And I know that higher
education really has to play a role in two ways. One, by generating the
research and knowledge that’s going to help us develop
the right policy solutions, and to work collaboratively
with policymakers to implement those solutions. But also by becoming greater
engines of economic mobility on their own campuses. So before I introduce
our speakers you have to oblige me with a
few minutes to brag about some of the things that Brown is
doing, and some of the things that I hope we’ll be doing
even better in the future. So what is Brown doing to
increase economic mobility in the country? And I think the most
important thing we can do– and it’s very much
a work in progress– is to make a Brown education
more accessible to lower income and middle income students. And the work that we’re
doing here on campus, when I think about it, it’s
really reflected in a number of recent initiatives. One is just this past year,
eliminating package loans in the financial aid packages
of all of our students, which is great. And what that does is
it really helps students come here and study
what they love, and go away hopefully
unencumbered by debt, being able to go to the
careers of their choosing without having to worry
about the finances. Another recent innovation
that I would highlight is the creation of
the U-Fli Center, which stands for
undocumented, first-gen, and low-income students. And what we’re doing is
empowering these students, helping them develop
roadmaps for navigating life at Brown and life after Brown. And finally, I would point to
some recently announced plans to provide free textbooks for
low-income students at Brown. And we did a pilot this year. We’re expanding it next year. Very excited about that. And this is something that helps
ensure that all of our students have the same access to
the basic academic tools that you need to be
successful in a university. So those are some
things we’re doing. Another thing I would note, and
this is something that I talked to the mayor about–
and it’s also, again, a work in progress– we’re very committed
to improving the quality of schools and
the success of students right here in Providence. And you can look
at some examples of what Brown is doing. We have a great
after-school program, a debate elementary
school, which enriches students learning. We bring a lot of students
here to the Summer at Brown high school
courses, which prepare students for college. And we do that by
offering fellowships to our local students. And then there’s a fund for
the children of Providence that currently supporting
scholarships for local students at college after they
graduate from Brown. And we’re thinking
really actively about how we can do more
and better in our support of local public education. And the last thing
I would just note is that we’re really committed
to growing the Providence economy. Because economic growth is going
to lift everybody up, at least if it’s done right. And we’re participating
in initiatives, again, in partnership with the mayor,
like the Urban Innovation Partnership. And we have our own blueprint
called Brown in the Innovation Economy that we’re following. So those are just
some of the things that Brown is doing to try
to increase economic mobility in this country. Now, the question for us
today is not that though. The question for
us today is really how data, and the
university-based research that comes from using that data, can
inform policies and practices aimed at reducing
income inequality and increasing social mobility,
very much in partnership with local organizations
and local governments. We can’t do it alone. Research by itself isn’t going
to solve any problems at all. Now, those of you
who think about what data is delivering– we have
this remarkable data revolution going on. And access to new ways of
gathering, curating, connecting data is helping us do incredible
work in a wide range of fields, not just in the field that
we’re talking about today. So when I look at the
mathematical and computational tools, and the data that Brown
researchers are developing, they hold promise for so
many different things. Recent examples– we’re
using big data here at Brown to identify the
therapeutic values of plants, improve biodiversity. Some of you who read The New
York Times this weekend, there was a great article by Brown
Economics Professor Emily Oster on using data
to improve parenting. And we’re doing some work on
diagnosing traumatic brain injury using big data. And now– and this is the work
that we’re going to be seeing this afternoon and
talking about– this data is demonstrating
how street addresses shape children’s trajectories
and opportunities over their lives. With the Opportunity Atlas,
which Professor John Friedman will talk about, that he’s done
with a number of colleagues, this data, this analysis,
has enabled us to identify and map high and low opportunity
areas in this country, and better understand the
characteristics and the things that lead to greater mobility. So with the data and
analysis in hand, I think we can start to address
some really important questions like, know how do
we identify which policies are most effective at
increasing economic mobility? We can’t do everything. What’s going to work the best? How do we best tailor
and target policies to specific neighborhoods
and populations based on what the data is telling us? Again, we can’t do everything. So targeting helps us do
what we do more effectively. And then third, and maybe
this is the hardest, and data can’t tell us how to
do this, which is, how do we marshal the political
will and the resources that we need to make change? And I hope that’s something that
we can discuss this afternoon. So these are questions, I
think, tee up the conversations that we’re going to have
today, about restoring the American dream
for everybody. I’m excited about it. So let me very briefly
introduce our two presenters. John Friedman is
Associate Professor of Economics and
International Affairs and Public Policy at Brown. He is the director of the
Equality of Opportunity Project, and his research
brings together theory and data, harnessing the power of large
complex administrative data sets to yield policy insights
on a wide range of topics, including taxation, health
care, and education. Following John’s presentation–
so he’ll speak first– we’ll hear from Mayor
Jorge Elorza, who’s spearheaded efforts to
make Providence a fantastic place to live, and
work, and do business. He’s intensely focused on
building the human capital among members of the
Providence community, focusing really on
children, education, and economic success. He’s been a collaborative
partner and a friend to Brown in creating opportunities that
benefit the people of the city. So after John speaks,
the mayor will speak, and then we’ll sit down
and have a conversation, then open up the
floor to questions. So John, the floor is yours. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] JOHN FRIEDMAN:
Thank you so much. It’s really a
pleasure to be here. And what I’d love to share with
you, just to set the stage, is not only some
data work that we’ve done to highlight the
geography of economic mobility in this country, but also to
talk about a few ways in which we’re starting to use those data
to set the stage for the mayor. He’ll tell you much more
about what he and his staff are doing for upward
mobility and children in the United States. So just to start and set the
stage at the broadest level, I want to provide some
data behind a fact that President
Paxson noted, which is that upward mobility is
getting harder and harder in the United States, and
really, all across the world. So what this graph shows is
just a very simple statistic. The fraction of
children who grow up to have a higher standard of
living than their parents did. And it shows that
calculated separately for kids born in
each year starting in 1940, all the way over on
the left here, where that dot up above 90 says that more than
90% of kids born in 1940 achieved a higher standard of
living than their parents did. And it was so successful,
nearly so guaranteed that this was something
children could expect, that people talked about
the American dream not even as having a higher standard
of living than one’s parents, but perhaps even doubling
the standard of living of one’s parents. What we’ve seen over
the last generations though, is that as we move over
to the right side on the graph, that number falls. So that by the time
I was born in 1980, it was literally no
better than a coin flip whether children would
have a higher standard of living than their parents did. And I think I agree with what
President Paxson noted, which is that this not only
an economic problem this is a social problem. People are frustrated today,
even though the economy is objectively quite strong. Unemployment rates are very low. What they feel is that
they can’t get ahead. They feel like they are
not able to experience the type of success in life
that they had come to expect. And I think this
really lies behind it. Now, what are we going
to do about this? So at Opportunity
Insights, which is a new research center jointly
between Brown and Harvard, that I formed with
my co-authors, we use big data to
study this phenomenon, try to understand
what’s going on, and eventually what
type of policies can we help recommended develop
that will reverse that trend and lead to a return in social
mobility across America. And to do so we’re
going to analyze really a wide range
of interventions all throughout childhood. And the starting
point is going to be what we’re going to
see to be really sharp, local differences
in upward mobility. Now, why is that something
that we feel is useful? Well, I think before
showing you the data, it’s helpful to lay out a
framework for how one might think about using data
at the highest level in order to improve
upward mobility. And we’ve really drawn
inspiration from the way that they’ve used big
data in another field. In medicine, in a precision
medicine approach, one first tries to really
understand the medical problem that one is facing,
and then goes about solving that problem. So how does that work in
a social economic context? Well, I think there
are three key stages. The first stage
is an assessment. We need to actually figure
out what’s going wrong. And as I’ll show
you, what turns out to be going wrong
in different places is going to be very different. And so what we’re
going to need to know is actually, what did the
data say about Providence? And that may be very
different from what it says about Boston or Hartford? Second, I think then there’s
a role for policy pilots where we try to understand what
types of policies can succeed. That, of course, need
to move beyond the data and work with
local stakeholders. And that’s why I
think it’s going to be so exciting to have a
conversation with the mayor later this afternoon. And then there’s a step
where we need to understand whether what we tried worked, to
try to disseminate what worked. To try to reform
what didn’t work, because things aren’t
going to work all the time. And that’s, eventually,
you repeat this cycle over and over. You try to end up
with scalable policies to increase mobility for those
children living in the city. Now, to start with
the assessment phase, I’m going to show you some data. And just so we’re all on
the same page about what it is that I’m
showing you, these are data from tool called
the Opportunity Atlas. And we’re going to measure
upward mobility across America using anonymous data from
census and tax records from more than 20
million children linked to their parents. Now, what’s very
important here is that we’re going to
look at kids based not on where they’re living
today, but where they grew up. And it’s going to turn
out that where you grew up has really important
consequences for social mobility in ways
I don’t think we understood. And so let me show you lots
of different colors on maps, and all the time,
for instance, if I say some statistic
about Providence or some statistic about
this neighborhood, it’s all about kids who
grew up in Providence or grew up in that neighborhood. And as a result, what we’re
going to be able to do is trace the roots of
poverty, and incarceration, and other long-term
outcomes that we care about improving
through social mobility, we’re going to trace them back
to childhood neighborhoods. And that’s going to turn out
to have a great deal of power. So just to get started, here
is a map of the United States. And each color– each
of the little polygons– is a city at the moment. The colors are a heat map. So we’re mapping
from blue, which is very high upward mobility,
to red, which is relatively low upward mobility. And just to give you
a sense of the scale, you can see a couple of the
averages for different cities on the map. For instance, in Charlotte,
in the southeast, that’s a very red area. Children born to parents
earning about $25,000 a year– that’s at about the 25th
percentile of all parents in this generation– kids born to those
families, when they grow up and we see them at age
35, are on average earning only $26,000. So even for children coming from
this very poor set of families, they’re really barely making
more than their parents did. In contrast, if you look
in the Upper Midwest, so for instance, if you
look at Dubuque, Iowa, children born into
the same poor families earning that same
$25,000, those children earn nearly double
what their parents did when we see them at age 35. They’re earning
more like $46,000. And so from blue to red,
you see the great variation in this country. Providence, up in
the Northeast, we’re right about in the middle. Kids born to families
earning about $25,000 in Providence, grow up,
when they’re 35 years old, to be earning about $33,000. Now, I think this map is
very useful in pointing out these relatively large
regional disparities. But I think that actually
there’s a limit here. I’ll tell you about
a conversation I had with the mayor at one point. We were looking at this
map, and we said well, gee, Providence is 33,000. That’s great. Can we make it better? Dubuque, Iowa is so much higher. And I said, well,
gee, why don’t you just go try to be a little
bit more like Dubuque? And he kind of looked at
me, with a tilt to his head, and it was very
clear that that just was not a helpful
practical solution, because Dubuque differs from
Providence in so many ways. It would just be very difficult
to understand what was it about this city, in
relatively rural Iowa– very different demographics,
very different economy, very different problems
that these kids face– how did those
policy solutions map to what we see in Providence? And so instead, what
we can do is really dive into the Opportunity Atlas. So this is now a live
shot from the website. You can go online anytime you
want– opportunityatlas.org. So these are the same
colors on the same map. And what we can do is we
can zoom into Providence. Nope that’s– [LAUGHTER] Nope. That is not Providence. This is Providence. We can zoom in to Providence. And the key thing to
note here is that I’ve kept the colors the same. So where you see on the
map that’s the darker red, those are the same
outcomes that we saw down in the southeast part
of the United States, in places like Charlotte. And the blue and green,
those are much higher outcomes similar to
what we saw in Dubuque. But what’s striking
is that we’re seeing that full range
of colors, all here within just a couple of
miles of where we’re sitting. And even within the boundaries
of the city of Providence, you see that same variation. Now, this is plotting all kids. And of course, we know
that the demographics of kids that live
in different places are a little bit different. And so for instance,
on the atlas you can focus in on different
racial or gender subgroups. so for instance, if you’re
interested in looking only at Hispanic children, the
map looks relatively similar, but you see the same
amount of patchwork. There’s some very good places,
or some not so good places. Note that there are some places
on the map that are gray. Those are places
where there are simply not enough Hispanic
children living as a result of residential
racial segregation. Same thing, we can look at
black children growing up in Providence. Here you see the colors are
much more tilted towards blue, and that’s a fact
about Providence that it is a relatively good
place for black children to grow up. Unfortunately, other work
that my co-author has put out has shown that there are
quite large racial differences in outcomes, even for children
growing up in the same income family on the same block. You see that black children,
and especially black men, have considerably worse
outcomes in adulthood. And so here, Providence
is a very good place for black children relative to
other cities in the country, but their outcomes are
still, unfortunately, quite a bit lower than
for white children. So now going back to everyone,
what’s important to note here is that this type
of variation in part can be explained by things
like where it’s a really expensive place to live. But also, there’s
a lot of variation that goes beyond that. And so what I can
do here is flip over to a different
version of this map, where you see there are
now a bunch of gray areas. Those gray areas that
I’ve removed from the map are places where the
median family, rent for a two-bedroom apartment
is more than $1,100. So these are places,
largely, that would be unaffordable payment
standard for something like a housing voucher. And you see that knocks out
a bunch of the East side. It knocks out a nice part
of the waterfront that’s recently being developed. It knocks out some
other areas in the city. But you still see a lot
of the variation remains. And for instance, the
Elmhurst neighborhood up by Providence College and
Rhode Island College, that’s still a very good
opportunity place to be, yet it’s a place
that’s very affordable. And it’s this type
of variation that’s going to start to give
us a handle on how we can think about using
these data to inform policy. So let me now go back
and talk about how two ways that we
might use these data. And I think those two ways fall
broadly into two categories. First, we can think about
moving to opportunity. That is, taking advantage
of housing vouchers and other housing choice
programs to help families locate in more high
opportunity areas. And then second, we can think
about place-based investments which help directly
increase upward mobility in those low opportunity areas. So let me talk
about each in turn. In order for families
to make sense that they might
move to opportunity, it’s going to be very important
that those high opportunity neighborhoods we
see really reflect something about the
neighborhood itself, so that one moving
to that neighborhood would actually
experience the benefits. An alternative possibility is
that even though the families look very similar,
say on education, or race, or income,
certain types of families, for instance, that care
a lot about education, might choose to live, and
maybe work at higher education institutions. And so you might see more
of those families living up in certain neighborhoods
like Elmhurst. And so to investigate that,
what we’re going to do is actually look at children
who move from one neighborhood to another throughout
their childhood, to get a sense of whether
moving from one neighborhood to another seems to
affect their trajectories. And to do so, we’re going to use
the data in a much broader way. But I want you to think about,
just as a conceptual example in your head, I want you to
think about a family where a child is born on
the upper south side– those are some of the red
areas towards the south side of Providence– and I want you to think
about them moving from there to those bluer neighborhoods
in the northwest, Elmhurst, at some point during
their childhood. And we’re going to compare
that child’s outcomes to what we might get in
two different scenarios. One, the dashed line
on the bottom here, is what would have happened
for kids who we just observed living in
the upper south side for their entire childhood. And the other benchmark is
that higher dashed line. That’s what we
observe for families that have their kids
born in Elmhurst and then stay there
for their entire lives. So let’s not think about
these kids who move. And we’ll start just
with a single example of a child who moves
from the upper south side to Elmhurst at age two. For this child, they’re
going to earn about $38,000. And the key thing
is that it’s not quite as high as the kids
who were born in Elmhurst and stayed their
entire childhood, but it’s almost there. So if you are born in the south
side and you moved to Elmhurst, you get almost all
of the difference in your own outcomes. Now, let’s just think
about moving forward year to year at a time,
and think about what happens as the kid moves at
age 3, age 4, age 5, and so on. And what I think you’ll
find to be quite intuitive is that the longer you stay
in the upper south side before moving to Elmhurst,
the more your outcomes start to converge down to
the outcomes of the kids who spend their entire life
on the upper south side. So what that’s saying is
that the longer you spend on the upper south
side, the more you look like the upper south Side. And the more you time you
spend growing up in Elmhurst, the more your
outcomes are to look like the outcomes of Elmhurst. And in fact, it’s not just that
this happens qualitatively, it’s almost a line, right? Every extra year that
you’re moving to Elmhurst, every extra year you get
to spend growing up there, is another 20th of the way
from the lower dashed line– upper south side–
up to Elmhurst. And so what that
really suggests is that it’s not just
the type of families who live in different
places, but really the exposure to these
different neighborhoods almost in a linear annual
way that seems to matter. And we can even
check to make sure that once this line is converged
down to the bottom here, we want to make sure
if the family moves out of the upper South side
after the kid is moved out of the household, one hopes,
and it’s not really childhood anymore, does it matter? And in fact, there it
seems to flatten out. We’d like to think about
this as a placebo test. This is a difference that
shouldn’t matter, and, in fact, it doesn’t matter. So what we’ve learned
here is that it seems like moving to
these better neighborhoods does in fact seem to
have the type of impact on children’s trajectories
that we might hope. And so now we can think about is
this a type of feasible policy? And again, focusing
back on this map where the gray areas that I’ve
removed are the places that are too expensive,
all of these areas remain as places
where housing vouchers or relatively cheap public
housing could be located. Unfortunately, what
we see in Providence– and this is not
special to Providence, this is something that we see
in every city across the country in some sense– is that the green
and pink dots are where different types of public
housing projects are located. So the green, or the low income
housing tax credit properties. The pink, or the PHA
family developments. What you see is they’re
clustered in the relatively red and orange areas. And if you looked at
where housing voucher recipients live– I’ve done this
for many cities, I haven’t done this
for Providence– I’m guessing you would
find a very similar map. So that is people who we try
to help support their living, and try to give them a little
bit of a choice as to where they live, unfortunately, policy
has clustered those families in outcomes, in
neighborhoods that are relatively low opportunity. And so I think this
is one way that we can think about changing policy
to help those families live in higher opportunity areas. There’s a pilot
project that we’re just finishing up in Seattle,
which has done exactly this. It’s provided a little bit
of information to tenants. It’s helped recruit landlords
in higher opportunity areas, and offered a little bit of
a housing search assistance to try to help families live
in higher opportunity areas. And it’s a little bit too
early to publicly announce the results of
this, but I will say it seems to have
been very successful. Now, the second
way that I think we can use these data to help
improve upward mobility is to actually have
place-based investments to increase upward mobility
in any given location, right? In some sense,
there’s only a limit to the number of
families you’re going to be able to move from one
neighborhood to another. And so the second
approach is just going to be a critical piece
of any broad-based strategy to increase upward mobility. And here, I think
it’s very useful to think about the places. How do those high
opportunity places differ from low
opportunity places? And what can we learn
from that about what seemed to be the right types
of investments to make? Well, first of all, we find that
places with lower poverty rates seem to have higher opportunity. It’s not about the local
availability of jobs though. It’s about the people. It’s about having
employed adults living in your community. That’s what really
seems to correlate. If you look at the number
of jobs that are nearby, that doesn’t seem to correlate
with opportunity at all. Second, we find that places with
more stable family structures have higher opportunity. I think that makes sense. Third, we find that places
with greater social capital promote greater opportunity. And so especially, I think,
these second and third combined with the
first– it’s all about the fabric
of the community. Who are the adults in a
community that can mentor, provide role models for
children growing up, to give them a sense of what
paths to a successful life are. And then fourth,
better school quality. Children spend a lot
of their time outside of the family in schools. And so it’s not
surprising that schools are a very important piece. So thinking about
these factors– I think what’s also important
to come back to that graph I showed you before– is that it’s not about
special moment in kids’ lives. So if only we can fix things by
age 5, then we’ll be all set. If only we can
fix college access and get highschoolers on the
right path, then we’d be set. What you saw is that
every year that goes by is another opportunity,
where either children are getting nudged towards the
better trajectory or not. And so I think what that
leads towards is, rather than thinking about kind of
discrete interventions at discrete points
in time, you want to think about more of a
life-course approach that’s driven by these data. And so at different points
in a child’s life, of course, you’re going to think
about different types of interventions. So you might think more
about family stability and early childhood education
at much younger ages. Where social capital,
mentorship, college and career readiness are going to be things
that are not going to make sense until kids are older. But what makes sense is that
you have some support really pushing on this opportunity
at every point along the way. Because every year that
goes by where we are you’re not pushing, that’s
a lost opportunity. So there’s a lot of this
going on in Providence. Very excited to hear the mayor
and all that he is doing. And look forward to
coming back to talk with you all later on
this afternoon about how this all comes together. So thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] JORGE ELORZA: Good
evening, everyone. Good evening, and thank
you for joining us for this important conversation. I agree with
President Paxson that not only is this a
timely discussion, but I believe that there is
no more important discussion that we can have in our
country and in our communities, than one about the
growing income inequality and the loss of opportunity. Thank you President Paxson
for bringing us together in this way for
this conversation. And I also want to say thank
you for your leadership on our urban innovation
partnership, and in everything that Brown has been
doing to support our kids in the city of Providence. Thank you, John, for this work. It really is great to
have you here in our city. I can tell you that
this work has already influenced a lot of the work
that we do around education, around housing policy, as we try
to tackle social and economic mobility here in our city. So it’s great to partner
with you on this initiative. So I want to start
off by sharing a little bit of my story
that, at least to me, speaks to why this
work is important. And then also add my
perspective to the challenges that we see on the front lines
as far as public policy makers. And perhaps I’ll add a little
bit more nuance and complexity to what you already have
seen in John’s presentation. So my parents are immigrants. They came to this
country from Guatemala and they literally came to
this country without $1, without a cent in their pockets. But they came here
with hopes and dreams. If I had $1 every
time my mother told me that our path out of poverty
was to get a good education, play by the rules,
and get a good job, then we would already be
bending this arc upwards. So my parents they came
from underdeveloped quote, unquote, third-world country. Very low formal education. My father has a seventh
grade education. My mother has a fifth
grade education. And it’s the classic,
yet also in so many ways, unbelievable immigrant story. My mother still
tells me to this day, that when she crossed
the border into Texas, that she spent two weeks
in the desert carrying my 10-month-old sister. And I remember growing
up and watching my mom, how she worked second shift
throughout her entire life. In fact, today as we
speak, my mother’s still working second shift. On weekends we would
go to flea markets, we’d purchase
blankets and curtains, and then drive around the
neighborhoods selling them. We would also on weekends
go around finding empty bottles and empty cans. We would take them to recycling
centers for the deposit money. Everything that my
parents could do to provide for my sister and
I, and provide a better life, they did it. And you know, I find
it hard to believe that there’s
anything necessarily intrinsic about them that
drove them to continue and that drove them in
their position persistence that they needed to provide
my sister and I a better life. But I have to
believe that what’s at the core, what’s at the
root of my family’s story, being one where we’ve
lived the American dream, is that my parents
never lost hope. Throughout all of our struggles,
and throughout my parents entire story, they
always believed that if you worked hard,
you played by the rules, and you’ve got a good
education, you could also live the American dream. And that’s why it’s so
concerning to me, as you see John’s presentation, that in
the 1970s, 90% of young people would do as well as
their parents by the time they reached middle age. And now it’s
hovering around 50%. And so if we want
folks to continue to believe that the
American dream still exists, and continue to
believe that there is hope for the next
generation, then there has to actually be
some substance there. I’ve heard it said
very provocatively that if you are looking for
the American dream, perhaps you should look in Canada. And so what are we
doing here locally, to make sure that that
American dream still exists? So I want to add a
piece from the world that I live in every
single day to John’s work. And this might seem totally
counterintuitive to anyone who knows me. But let me just say that I am
very optimistic about the state of politics in our country. And I also believe
that politics are moving in the right direction
in our country today. Now, let me explain. [LAUGHTER] Certainly I think that I
lament and deeply concerned about the state of
politics in Washington. But what you see
happening right now, and it is my belief that you
see a slow and steady rise of mayors, and the
influence of local leaders at a national level. In fact, there’s a mayor
running for president right now, something that has always
been considered audacious. And he’s a legitimate candidate. But his candidacy, in fact, is
part of something much bigger. Whereas you see a
retreat on so many issues that we care about
at the federal level, you see mayors and
municipal leaders stepping in and
filling that void. Couple of cases in point. Take the Paris Climate Accord. This began as a
multinational agreement where countries agreed to abide
by these very specific terms. The federal government stepped
back from its leadership role, and over 400 cities
throughout the country stepped up and said
that nonetheless we will abide by these terms. And, in fact, cities
throughout the country are the biggest polluters,
and so we can still see many of the benefits that
were initially envisioned for America’s participation. And you go issue, past
issue, past issue, and you see that cities
and mayors are stepping up and leading the way. So social and economic
mobility is also no different. Don’t forget that only
7% of education funding comes from the
federal government. The levers that
move the needle on social and economic mobility,
they live in our cities. When you think about our
school systems, our libraries, our workforce
development programs, our zoning
ordinances, et cetera, they all live in
and in our cities. And so I think that there
is an opportunity here with the continued rise
of the voice of mayors, and the influence of
mayors, that by coordinating our activities, that we can
amplify each other’s voice and lead the national
conversation on many of these issues, including
social and economic mobility. And even if those
structural changes in our politics throughout the
country don’t come to pass, the leadership on this
issue in particular is not coming from Washington. And it’s also very
difficult for it to come from the state level. And so it behooves
us as local leaders to lean into it regardless. So I think that cities
and municipal leaders have to play a leading role. And that’s why it’s so
exciting to have this research that shares with us, at
a very local level, how it is that we’re doing. I can share with you that I
talk with my colleague mayors throughout the country
on a regular basis. And while we will all say that
social and economic mobility is a great challenge and a great
concern in our communities, being realistic,
every mayor will also tell you that we simply don’t
know how our cities fare. We don’t know how we fare
now to how we did previously. We also don’t know
how we fare now, to how other cities
are faring now. And what John’s research
is sharing with us is not only providing
an answer to that, but also showing us
at a granular level, down to the ZIP code, how
it is that we’re doing. So just being aware
of where we stand is going to have a deep impact
on the way that we think, and the way that we
address these challenges. And so what are
the ways that we’re addressing these challenges
here in Providence? Well, there’s a
great book called Dream Hoarders, produced by
a researcher at the Brookings Institution– Richard Reeves. And what he does is he’s
takes this massive challenge and he breaks it down
into digestible chunks. Turns out that upper middle
class families, sometimes even before their
children are born, they’re already signing
up and getting in line for the best early
childhood learning centers for their children. Also, during the summertime,
summer learning loss has been documented. It’s a very real thing. Low income students or children
from low income families, they’re losing about two
months worth of learning during the summer. Whereas upper middle
class children that come from families
that can afford these summer enrichment programs,
they’re either staying level during the summer,
or actually moving a step further. So regardless of what we’re
doing during the school year, you multiply the summer
learning loss by 12, and what you have is a massive
achievement gap by the time that folks graduate
from high school. Also, when it comes
to internships– having that leg up,
having that experience and that opportunity can make
the difference of you know and exactly which direction you
want to follow in your career, but also having those doors
open for you in your career. Whereas upper middle
class families might be able to call their
accountant, their attorney, or perhaps a family
friend that can offer their child an internship
in their offices or firms, lower income families just
don’t have that ability. So what we’ve done in
the city of Providence, we’ve specifically addressed
each one of those challenges. We have a program called
Providence Talks, which is the only program
at scale that’s looking to close
the 30 million word gap in the city of Providence. And we’re hoping that through
participation in this program, more of our kids are
ready to learn by the time that they enter kindergarten. We’ve also invested millions
of dollars in summer learning. And in fact, if there’s one
area that I am deeply, deeply optimistic about in
education in our city, it’s maximizing time on
task, and making sure that our children have the
capacity to learn and grow, whether they’re in
a school building or outside in the community. Because the truth is that
our kids spend only 20% of their waking hours
inside of a school building. The other 80% they’re
out in the neighborhoods and out in the community. But there’s just as much time
or opportunity for learning and growth in those spaces. However, when you look at the
way that we allocate resources, we spend hundreds of millions
of dollars on the 20%, and we spend peanuts on the 80%. So how do we rebalance that
so that it works better for our kids. We’ve been investing a great
deal in summer learning. And then we’ve also
invested millions of dollars over the past several
years on summer internships. And these internships, they’re
sometimes at city offices, and sometimes they’re at some of
the biggest firms and companies in the city and in the state. And the way that
we’ve structured them have been not only that
we get a great experience and it’s an enriching
education for kids during their
internship, but we also want to make sure
that kids are leaving their internships with
a mentor and a reference for the next opportunities,
so that they can so that they can
start to not only open that door for themselves, but
keep opening it even wider. We’re also looking
at housing policy. And this is an issue
that’s of great concern to the current city council
and to my administration. And so we’re working
collectively, we’re working collaboratively,
not only to create a housing trust fund to invest more
in affordable housing and to create more housing
options for our families, but we’re always
looking for ways through our zoning
ordinance that we can provide for greater density,
and provide more housing opportunities for our folks. So those are some of
the ways that we’re beginning to tackle this
here at the local level. But I remain convinced that
whatever social challenge that we confront that we can’t
simply think with a policy hat on. Many of these challenges that
we have in our community, there is no technical solution
to either one of them. What it relies on is
making sure that there’s a sense of community. Just as I mentioned
my family coming over to coming to this country,
we didn’t have much, but once we settled here
in Providence in the 1970s, there was a growing Latino and
a growing Guatemalan community that my family felt a part of. It felt as though we
weren’t entirely on our own. That if fell on particularly
acutely difficult times, that there were
folks that provided, in fact, an informal
social safety net for us. And the reason why I think
that this conversation around social and
economic mobility is perhaps the most important
that we can be having today, is because you all see
it on TV, and you see it throughout the country,
play itself out where there’s growing anger,
there’s growing division, there’s growing anxiety. And you look at the rise
of diseases of despair, such as depression, loneliness,
substance abuse, and even suicide. People see much progress
all around them, but they feel as though
they’re being left behind. How do we create a
sense of community so that people feel
connected to something bigger than themselves,
and give folks a sense of meaning and purpose
in our collective lives? So that’s part of the
challenge that we have as well. And I’ll simply underscore this
point that I just mentioned. More and more, I’m
convinced that there is no technical solution to the
social challenges that we have, unless there is a
strong underpinning of a sense of community
that brings people together. So I’ll pause there. I want to thank President Paxson
and John Friedman once again for inviting us, and for
having this conversation. I look forward to hearing
what you all have in mind. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] CRISTINA PAXSON: Well,
thanks so much to both of you for your thoughts, and
especially for sharing your family’s story. I thought it was
really interesting. So let’s talk a little bit
more about educational quality. You talked about
school quality being one of the drivers of mobility. And I feel like we all sort
of know what that means. You can feel a really good
school when you go into it. But I’d love to know
how you measure it, and then what we can do to
really make our schools better. JOHN FRIEDMAN: So school
policy is one area here where people have been doing
research for a long time. And unlike some of the other
factors that I mentioned, like stable families, right? I think we all agree
that that’s a good thing, but it’s a hard thing to– you can’t just flip a switch
from a policy perspective. Educational quality
is something I think we do have some good ideas
about how to make that work. And I think increasingly, the
research shows, first of all, that the quality of the
instructors really matters. It makes sense, as that
they’re driving the classroom. There are enormous
differences that you see between high and low
quality teachers generating 10, 15 percentage points difference
in college attendance rates, and hundreds of thousands
of dollars and differences in long-term outcomes. Similarly, we now
have a very good sense of whether spending more
money on schools matters. And the answer is
that it does, but you have to do it in the right way. So that doing it to increase
the quality of the interaction, and the quality of
the student experience seems to matter a lot. Having a whole bunch of more
backroom administrators, as you might expect, turns out
to not really matter that much. And so, it turns out that
school quality is something I think is both very
important, and it’s something where we have a pretty
clear sense of what to do. JORGE ELORZA: I think a little
bit differently on this. I think not so much
in terms of schools, I think more in
terms of education. And I believe there are five
things that we need to do, at least here in Providence,
but I think that all of them are directly transferable
to any city in the country. The first one is
that everyone who’s been involved in school
turnarounds or school work will tell you that it’s the
culture in the building that matters. And you have people who have
already committed their careers and their lives
to educating kids. And so people are
willing to do the work, the hard work, the dirty work. But there has to be a strong
culture, a sense of community inside the building. And there’s a lot that
we need to do there, from empowering principals with
flexibility and the resources to run their buildings,
to also supporting our teachers on the
front lines, so that they feel as though they’re
making a difference. That’s one. The second, maximizing
time on task. This is very simple. It’s the more you practice,
the better you’re going to be, the better you’re going to get. We can expand the school
day, or we can also look for education and
learning opportunities outside of the traditional school day. So I’m a big believer in
after-school learning, I’m a big believer
in summer learning, and I’m also a big
believer in connecting our kids to online
learning tools, so that wherever they are they
can always continue learning. Which leads to the third one. I also believe in personalized
mastery based learning. We have this practice
in Providence, which is not dissimilar
from the practice in many cities
throughout the country, that we call social promotion. In fact, when kids reach around
those middle school years, it’s almost a lock that every
one will be promoted and passed on to the next grade. And I firmly believe that
we’re doing kids a disservice by simply moving them along
before they’ve mastered the material and
are ready for what awaits them at the next step. And so personalize instruction
so we go to mastery, but also personalizing
instruction so that kids can
find their passions. Gone are the days of the
traditional textbook. Now, if our kids have
access to something online, if they have access to this
limitless library of material online, they can do a book
report on Lionel Messi, and his rise as a soccer star. Or they could do it
on a world leader from a country on the
other side of the world. We have to connect kids
with their passions. The fourth issue
that I believe we have to tackle when
it comes to education is social and emotional
learning supports. Many of our kids
here in Providence, they come to school carrying
a lot of challenges and issues from their homes and
from their communities. Think about how
difficult it is to learn if you’re a second
grader, and you witnessed your mom being beaten
by your dad the night before. You internalize. How do you handle that? In Providence, many
of our kids frankly don’t get three square
meals of food a day unless they’re in
our school system. And so how do you learn,
if you’re not being fed, if you don’t have that
sense of security and safety in the classroom. So we have to do more about
social and emotional learning supports for our teachers, and
for our kids in the classroom. And then the fifth one is you
walk through any of our school buildings, and kids
know from the moment they step inside, whether
we’re prioritizing them. Whether we’ve
deferred maintenance, or whether we’ve
stayed up on it. We need to make sure that
from the moment our kids walk into the building, they look
around and they see they have state-of-the-art facilities and
technology so that they know that we value them. CRISTINA PAXSON:
It all sounds great if we could do all
of that at once. I know it’s a long haul to get
Providence schools to where we need to get them. But your work is
really appreciated. Let me just switch the
topic a little bit, and then we’re going to open it
to questions after a few more. I think about somebody like you. You went to Harvard,
is that right? And then you came
back to Providence. And when we think
about upward mobility from Providence’s
point of view, it’s great if students you
know go off and do great things in the rest of
the world, but we really do want them to come back. So how do you think
about making sure that the students who
are upwardly mobile choose to stay here? JORGE ELORZA: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s a great question. So first of all, I did go
to Harvard for Law School, but I started off at
community college. And so I took a different
path to get there yet. But I was like many of my
colleagues and classmates growing up. There was a sense when
we were growing up in Providence, that
Providence was too small and it wasn’t a real city. And we couldn’t wait until
we graduated from high school or college, so we can
leave go to a real city, go to a big city, and say
goodbye to Providence. And I think that has changed. I think more young people
growing up in Providence have a pride in Providence,
and want to come back and be and be future leaders here. So I think, what is it that
has turned the tide on that? What makes people proud
to be from Providence? And first of all, I
think that there’s a sense of community
and belonging that draws people back. So we need to make sure that
our young people feel included, that they feel that
they feel valued. And some of the
investments that I mentioned that we’ve made
in young people, that goes a long way. Investments that we make in our
public spaces, such as parks. The investments that we
make in our programming, bringing people together
around the arts. The investments that we make
an after-school programs, so that they have clubs
and different activities that they feel connected to. We want our kids to be as
successful as possible, and if that means coming to
Brown, or going to Stanford, or going halfway across the
world to get an education, we want to celebrate that. But how do we bring them back? Certainly, we have
to have the jobs, but there has to
be a willingness to come find a job here. And I think that
it’s all these things to create a vibrant and
exciting community that creates that pride
in Providence that makes them want to come back. CRISTINA PAXSON: Mm-hmm. So we’ve been focusing– and
I think the discussion will probably focus mainly
on local policy– but I want to talk a
little bit about the more macroeconomic picture,
if you don’t mind. Because when you think about
the fraction of children who can expect to be better
off than their parents, a lot of that has to do with
the rate of economic growth at the national level, right? And a lot of that has to do
with federal policy, tax policy, a lot of other things that
do or don’t promote growth. And I guess one first
question for John Friedman is, your study looks at
the mobility of children who grew up in the 80s and 90s. Right? JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. CRISTINA PAXSON: Because you
have to see them at age 35. JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. Think about people born
between about 1980 and ’85 is the core period. CRISTINA PAXSON: Exactly. And so now the children who
you’re trying to support now, these are children who maybe
were born during or shortly after the great recession. And I guess the question
for you is, do you see big macro trends that
make you feel better, or maybe even more concerned
about the degree of social mobility in the US? It’s hard to predict the future. These kids aren’t grown up yet. JOHN FRIEDMAN: No, so that’s a
critical question that you ask. And I think that you’re right. If you think about the
broad drivers of that graph that I started with, there
are basically two factors. One is how fast is average
growth in the country, right? Multiplying by 10 incomes from
one generation to the next, that’s going to make it
much easier for everyone to do better than their parents. But then the second thing,
which is a very critical factor, is the distribution
of that growth. Are we growing in a way
such that more or less all the different parts
of the income distribution are growing at the same pace,
and growth is broadly shared? Or are we growing in
a way where growth is concentrated, as we’ve seen
it in the last three decades or so, towards the top of
the income distribution, so that income
inequality is growing? Now it turns out that
both of those factors– both slower overall growth,
and more skewed distribution of growth– have contributed to that
declining American dream plot that I showed you. But it turns out,
if you could pick to reverse one of the changes– that is, I could either
pick to have overall growth rates the way we had it
back in the 50s and 60s, or I could pick to have a
more equitable distribution of growth, the way we had
it back in the 50s and 60s but with lower growth, as we’ve
seen it in the 80s and 90s, it turns out to be much
more important to fix the distribution
of growth than fix the overall level of growth. And so what that’s
saying is that if only we had a more equitably
distributed growth path, just with the same kind of 2- 2 and
1/2 percent growth that we do see today, but if we could
make it so that instead of most of the gains going to the
top 10- or the top 1%, they were more
broadly distributed throughout the income
distribution, then, in fact, you would see a pretty
large change in the numbers that I showed you
being about 50%, we’d be back up around 75%. We wouldn’t quite be at the 90%. You’d need to have a faster
overall growth for that, but if only we could get
a broader shared growth, I think that would
make a huge difference. And so then we can think about
a lot of the changes federally that affects these
types of things. I think you see that
we’ve had some tax changes over the years,
which have broadly advantaged people that
have a lot of money or have a lot of wealth. And we’ve seen other tax
changes over the years that have led to more
broad-based growth, either through targeted tax
credits, like the earned income tax credit, or through the types
of policies that really foster growth for those at the lower
end of the income distribution. And I policies like that, that’s
where federal policy needs to focus to complement the
type of local policy efforts that the mayor
was talking about. CRISTINA PAXSON: Mm-hmm. And Mayor are there any sort
of federal policy changes that are hindering
or helping you advance your mobility agenda? Or do you just say the federal
government does what it does. I’m going to focus on what I do. JORGE ELORZA: I mean,
to a certain extent. So the currency of purchase in
my world is solving problems. CRISTINA PAXSON: Yeah. JORGE ELORZA: And
to solve a problem, you have to take reality
for what it is, as opposed to how you’d want it to be. And so I almost take the
federal government’s position, and whether they are or
aren’t a partner as a given. That’s a starting point. And we do what we can
with what we have. Now, there are certain
things that I’d like to see from the
federal government. Most of the resources that we
get from the federal government that we apply to
this comes through and the Community Development
Block Grant program– CDBG. And every year, there is a
proposal to cut CDBG money, and then you have
champions in Congress that restore some of the funding. But we’ve seen a marked
decline in these dollars. I believe about 30
years ago, the city used to get about $20
million in CDBG dollars from the federal government. Today we get less
than $5 million. So that’s one. The second thing
is, there’s a lot that we want to do
at the local level, and we can do it on
our own if we have to. But it would be great to
have a federal partner there along with us. So there’s a lot of talk
at the federal level, but there’s a lot of
action at the local level. There’s been talk about a
trillion dollar infrastructure plan at the federal level,
however, in the past election cycle, cities
throughout the country approved through referendum
over $300 billion worth of infrastructure
investments. This is just in one cycle. So it’s happening
at the local level. And you know it would be great
to have more of a partner, but in the absence of
federal leadership, the challenges still exist
at the local community, and we have to find
solutions for them. CRISTINA PAXSON: Mm-hmm. So just one last question
before we open the floor. Are you going to do
more work on Providence? And are you going to
do more work together? How is that going to work? JOHN FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. CRISTINA PAXSON: OK. JORGE ELORZA: So John and I
have been working on this idea that we’re calling
the Children’s Accord. And Brown has been involved
in this very deeply through Dr. Ken Wong. And the Children’s
Accord is a play on the Paris Climate Accord. In the absence of
federal leadership, how do we get municipal
and county leaders to step up and fill that void? And by simply being
aware of the data, is there a way that we
can get mayors and county leaders throughout
the country to lean into the issues of social
and economic mobility so that they can
leverage more resources? Second, also by highlighting
the initiatives that move the lever on social
and economic mobility, perhaps we can accelerate
the process of replication. And third, and this
speaks to the point that I mentioned earlier, if
by coordinating our activities, we can amplify the voice of
mayors and county leaders, that collectively, we can
drive the national agenda again on social and economic mobility. So we’re working together at the
local level on income mobility here, but we’re
also looking at, how do we create a network and a
movement of mayors and county leaders throughout the
country, that have this at the top of their agenda? CRISTINA PAXSON: Mm-hmm. And John, you’re working in
cities around the country, right? JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. What we’ve realized is that
taking research like this and just sticking it up
on the web is not enough. We need to walk beyond that. And that’s not to
say that we can design policies all ourselves. It’s critical to be working with
partners like the mayor, who really understand what’s
going on in any given place, and understand what the
local community needs, and what it will bear in
terms of different policies. But part of what our
organization does is have a policy team where
people spend all of their days going out and meeting with
different policymakers, and helping to organize
and design different policy interventions– like the
housing voucher pilot that I told you about,
like some of the work we’re doing in Charlotte,
North Carolina, to try to increase some
extremely low levels of upward mobility there. I think that’s a critical
piece of this work. Research like this is not meant
to sit in academic journals. It’s meant to be out in
the world, and being used, and we want to be
a part of that. CRISTINA PAXSON: Good. Well, thanks to both of
you for your responses. We’re going to open
the floor questions. I think we have people
with microphones, right? And these are rather
long rows, so if you want to have a question or
comment, raise your hand, and you’ll have the
microphone passed to you. So right here? AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you for the opportunity. My name is Brenda Clement. I’m director of Housing Works
Rhode Island, affiliated with Roger Williams University. And so housing advocates
like me say all the time that the path to opportunity
begins at your front door. And I think your research
shows that all over the place. Just one comment, because you’ve
talked so eloquently already about housing and housing
needs, and where people live, but I just wanted to
put this into context. We are working on a
source of income bill that’s actually scheduled
for a hearing tomorrow, that right now in Rhode
Island landlords can discriminate
against somebody based on their source of income. So if they have a
housing voucher, it means that they can
turn that down or refuse to accept that person, because
their source of payment of their rent, or a part of
their payment of the rent is their voucher. So it’s working on practical
solutions like that, and just wanted to
put into context that what you’re talking about
is very real in Rhode Island, and very real in Providence. And we’re trying to
work on solutions. CRISTINA PAXSON: Thank you. AUDIENCE: So my question is– JORGE ELORZA: Yeah,
what’s the question? [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: Sorry. Forgot that part. What the experience and some
of the initial takeaways from near Seattle project
about the voucher project, and how can we see more
mobility and more willingness of landlords to accept vouchers? CRISTINA PAXSON: Are you
allowed to talk about that here? JOHN FRIEDMAN: Yeah, I mean,
the formal results will come out over the summer,
but I think what’s important to for these
purposes, that it seems to have been very
successful across a broad range of outcomes. I think what we found was that
it’s very important to make sure that you’re really
thinking about how to make landlords really want to
be part of the program, right? It turns out that
section 8 is actually a really stable great source of
income if you know about that, and if you kind of get
through the various hurdles to get there. And so part of what we did
was to have a few programs on the landlord side. We weren’t making any drastic
changes to the system, but just easing a few
things that people found to be barriers to
joining to the program. So just to give you example,
when you rent your apartment on the private market,
usually you take first and last month’s
rent right upfront. And that provides at least
a minimum of stability that some money is coming in,
and especially from a liquidity perspective, you may not have
been renting the apartment recently. That immediate cash being
right there at the beginning is helpful. As far as I know, Section
8 takes a little while to start paying the landlord. And so even though it’s a
reliable source of money, waiting a month or two
months for those rent checks to start coming in,
might not be something that people can afford or
people want to deal with. And so just little stuff
like that I think can– Obviously we shouldn’t have
landlords be discriminating based on their source
of income, but we also want to make this a program that
people want to be a part of, and it’s seen as a really
good source of income. CRISTINA PAXSON: Good. Next question. I think we have one over here. AUDIENCE: Hi,
Professor Friedman. This is about your research. I was wondering
how your research is different from the 1992
Moving to Opportunity policies. Because they found no
significant labor market outcomes from the voucher
programs with the follow-up study from that. And also, they found
a significant impact on women’s mental health
from that study also. I was wondering how
maybe that can be captured by some of your data. JOHN FRIEDMAN: So
That’s a great question. So just to bring
everyone up to speed, the federal government funded
a housing voucher policy– a pilot project in the 1990s– where in five cities
across the country, they recruited families living
in what we’re really not very good large public housing
projects, and gave families two different types of vouchers. One was a standard
Section 8 voucher, and then the second
type was a voucher that was very
similar to Section 8, except it was restricted to
being used in a low poverty neighborhood. I think you couldn’t have
a poverty rate above 10%. And you’re right, some of
the initial studies of that found that it didn’t really
help things for the adults as they moved out of
these neighborhoods. There was some evidence that
the adults were happier though. What more recent
research looking back to that original set
of studies found, however, is that there were
big impacts on the kids. And when kids moved into these
lower poverty neighborhoods, you saw pretty large
gains later in life when you measured
them as adults, if the kids moved at an age that
was early enough so that they really could have some exposure
to the new neighborhood. And that really links
back to what I showed you where, if you move to a
new neighborhood at age 19 or something like that,
it’s almost as though you didn’t move there at all. Whereas, if you move to a new
neighborhood at age 10 or 12, you may not get
all of the benefits as if you had moved
there when you were born, but you get many
of the benefits. And so very similarly
to that, they’ve shown that the MTO kids
that moved to these better neighborhoods at
early ages in life, seemed to be doing
much better– income increases on a scale
like 30% more income that they’re earning
in their late 20s. Now, how does what were doing
in Seattle differ from MTO? The key thing in MPO is that
they targeted neighborhoods based on statistics about
the adults living there now. So they targeted
the poverty rate, but there are lots
of other measures. For instance, there’s
an Institute in Ohio that puts together a thing
called the Kirwan index. It’s a combination of
segregation and poverty, and a bunch of these
other variables that you might think
about for measuring the quality of neighborhoods. Now, it turns out that
while each of those things is correlated with
opportunity for kids, there’s really no substitute for
just looking directly at that. And so if you only target
low poverty neighborhoods, you’re going to
find neighborhoods that are a little bit better
in terms of opportunity, but not nearly as
much better as you could get if you just directly
targeted high opportunity areas. And so, in fact, you can go
back to the old MTO studies and put together a
little simulation. You could say, well,
given the gains that we observed for
kids in the neighborhoods where they did move,
what would have happened if they’d actually moved to the
high opportunity neighborhoods? And then you make sure that
they’re not moving any further than they did. They’re not moving to any
more expensive neighborhoods than they did. And other things like that. And it turns out
you can more than double the effect
of the MTO, if only you focus on these high
opportunity neighborhoods. And so that’s what we’re doing
in Seattle– really trying to not focus on
some other thing, but just really look at where
do we observe kids getting on really good trajectories. It’s oftentimes a low
poverty neighborhood, but sometimes it’s not. It’s oftentimes a less
segregated neighborhood, but sometimes not. And wherever we see
opportunity, we’re helping families find that. And, again,
preliminarily, things seem like they’re
really working. CRISTINA PAXSON: Yeah. But there’s a good
cautionary tale in that question,
which is, if you try to find big
effects too soon, you’re not going to find them. JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. CRISTINA PAXSON:
And here you are looking now, the kids
are in their 20s, and they’re doing much better. Whereas you couldn’t
see that a year after. JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. CRISTINA PAXSON:
It was too soon. JOHN FRIEDMAN: With the kids
you really have to give it time. It’s not this, oh,
if only we magically fix things at one age, things
will be better thereafter. CRISTINA PAXSON: Yeah. JOHN FRIEDMAN: The
other key distinction is a focus on the kids
rather than on the adults. Fixing where adults
are in life turns out to be really, really hard. There’s some things
that you can do, and it’s not like we
should give up on people, but broad-based policies
like that to really improve the economic outcomes
of adults turn out to be really, really hard. Whereas for kids, things seem
to be much more malleable. And so I think
that’s part of why I think when you
look in the data, and you think about things from
a social mobility perspective, like the mayor and
many others are doing, I think this
focus on children, and thinking about not
just how do we make sure that there are jobs
here today for adults, but that our community
is one which puts kids on the right path, such that
there is social mobility from our community. I think that’s a critically
important piece of policy that too often is really
not at the forefront. But it’s great that
it’s really now, I think, getting to the
forefront of the conversation. CRISTINA PAXSON: Good. Thank you. So I can’t see all the hands. So I’m going to let the– But I think this person right
here had her had up earlier. Thanks. AUDIENCE: I have two questions. And so you can choose either
of them, or neither of them, I guess. One is that you’ve
spoken quite a bit about the great work
that’s been done, and opportunities for
improving social mobility through education and housing. But haven’t heard
much about health, and whether or not health
is another route, both of the families themselves
and the children, and whether or not there are
opportunities there in terms of improving social mobility. A second question is how you do
evaluations of interventions. Because you are starting with
the benefit of a 35-year time frame to look at whether
or not to identify these high opportunity areas. But it’s unclear whether
these intermediate outcomes that you could possibly measure
within an evaluation time frame could be useful for guiding
social policy can be done. So I’m just interested in what
kind of intermediate outcomes you look at. JOHN FRIEDMAN: Do you want
to talk about health first? JORGE ELORZA: Sure. I’ll share with you
something that we’re starting to think
about, and starting to do here in Providence. Almost every health
expert will tell you that housing is one of the
social determinants of health. Yet when you ask them, what kind
of housing work are you doing? Their portfolio of work in
this space is very limited. And when we talk about
health organizations, it’s not just hospitals
but also the insurers. And so right now we’re thinking
about bringing the insurance companies to the
table now, and asking them to invest some of their
community benefit dollars to creating more affordable
high quality affordable housing. I know this is a bit of a broken
record, but in every community there are a number of
people who can do it. But I think that there is
one person, the mayor, that’s in the best position
to convene all of these different stakeholders. Being in touch on a regular
basis with the health insurance industry, being in touch on
a regular basis with housing advocates, you’re in
a perfect position to bring them to the table and
have them talk to each other. So those are some
conversations and some ideas that we’re working on right now. And I think that we can
make the case not just from good social policy,
but also a dollars and cents case that the health
insurance companies should be investing in this space. And over the long term, it’d
be in their best interest. JOHN FRIEDMAN: So I
can talk a little bit about how do you figure out
whether things are working. And I think this is also
a really critical piece of making the leap between
research and policy. When we first started about
what we might do in Providence, we said, well, we’ll put in
a pilot here, a pilot there. And then I’ll track the
kids into adulthood, and I’ll come back
25 years later, and I’ll tell you
whether it worked or not. And the mayor didn’t seem
quite as happy with that as maybe I’d hoped. Yeah, you’ve got to
be able to figure out whether this stuff is
working on a real timeline. And that’s a challenge
that cities face. It’s a challenge
that schools face. It’s challenging
universities face. Anytime where there’s a gap
between what you can measure now, and what you really think
are the long term outcomes that we really deep down care
about, this is a key challenge. And I think the benefit of
these type of historical data that we now have
available increasingly to study these
types of programs, is that we can not
only look today at what are the long-term outcomes
from the types of policies like the MTO, Moving to
Opportunity, that happened in the 1990s. But there’s also a lot
of intermediate data where we can ask, for instance,
in the context of MTO, what did that look like
three or four years in? And what can we learn
from that experience about how to recognize success
where there is success, how to recognize failure when
there is failure, before we have to wait 20 years? Now, there still is not
going to be a substitute for waiting 20 years, right? There’s just information that
you’re not going to know. But in most cases that I’ve
seen, with the right data you can actually figure
it out in the short term. And, of course,
exactly what you’re going to look at
in the short term is largely going to
be data dependent. And the best-case
scenario, you just actually want to let
the data tell you what are the right intermediate
proxies for success. And so, for instance,
in the case of MTO, a lot of looking at
engagements between some of these overwhelmingly
minority and relatively younger teenagers, older teenagers
in the criminal justice system in school. That was one thing that
seemed to be pretty predictive of long-term stuff,
even in the early data back then. Especially with
school interventions. There has been a lot of good
work showing that not only test scores, but also a lot
of what some people call non-cognitive tests,
or how children are behaving with others. Are they being suspended? Are they falling into other
types of disciplinary problems? Those seem to be
pretty predictive of a long-term stuff. But it’s very context dependent,
and it’s a critical piece. So I don’t have a
general answer for you. All to say is that there
is a way to do this, and I think that it’s
a very important piece of this type of evaluation. You got to figure
out what are you to look at in the short
term, to make sure that you’re on the right
path for the long term. CRISTINA PAXSON: And
some of the things that the Mayor mentioned,
like summer learning loss. Right? That’s something you can
pretty easily measure. JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. CRISTINA PAXSON: And I
think we know that that matters over the long run. So that work is
really important. Yeah. Again, I can’t– the
lights are very bright. I’m trying to see. I have a lot of a
hands up down here. So why don’t we start here,
and work our way over. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you very much
for the presentation, and I’m embarrassed to ask a
really simple, stupid question. But your data seems
extraordinarily complete and remarkably specific. Can you just spend a
minute discussing– and your confidence level
in your data is very high. [LAUGHTER] So can you just spend a
minute explaining to me how you get these data, and
how they can be so complete? JOHN FRIEDMAN: Sure,
that’s a great question. And I think your
question really gets at the root of what I think has
been a data explosion that’s happened in the social sciences
and policy-relevant research fields over the
past 10 or 15 years. The key thing is to use
so-called administrative data sources. What does administrative mean? It means that the
data are collected for some other purpose
than purely whatever study it is that I or anyone
else wants to do. So how is that different from I
think more traditional research practices? So traditionally,
someplace like the Census or the Bureau of Labor studies
would go out and conduct a survey, where they’d ask 1,000
people some set of questions, and then researchers try
to use those data in order to learn whatever
they wanted to learn. And you can easily see
the problems to that, even if you’re just
interested in learning what’s going on at a
given moment in time, but especially then if you’re
interested in following those individuals
over time, you’d have to go actually find
those 1,000 people again, which is really hard,
and you just lose track. And so what researchers
have done instead with these administrative
data sources is taken data whose main
purpose is not research, but they’re collected for
the purpose of tracking how kids are doing in schools. Or in the context of the
IRS, what incomes of people have earned in
taxes they’re owed, and those data
sets can basically be repurposed to
understanding some of these broad social problems. And so just to give
you an example of that, one of the very early papers
I wrote using these data looked at a long run follow-up
of an experiment that happened in Tennessee
in the 1980s, where kids in kindergarten were
put into different classrooms. And that study tried to track
the kids over about the next 10 years, with reasonable success. We came back about
15 years later. And, in fact, we were able to
find a wage for these children at age 27, for a larger share
of those kids that initially started in kindergarten,
then they had a test at the end of kindergarten for. Right? So just to give you
a sense, we were able to find something
like 95% of them. And that data is what enables
all of this to happen. And so they are number of
different sources for this now, but broadly it’s the advent of
administrative data like this, that have really enabled
studies like this, and policies like the
mayor is now talking about. CRISTINA PAXSON: And
I think it’s worth highlighting that this is
done with the utmost intention to confidentiality. JOHN FRIEDMAN: Yes. CRISTINA PAXSON: You don’t
get individual’s names. JOHN FRIEDMAN: That’s right. This is all anonymized. And so it’s all
anonymized records. CRISTINA PAXSON: So don’t get– Yeah. [LAUGHTER] JOHN FRIEDMAN: Yeah,
in fact, there’s a whole now science
of how to do this, called differential privacy,
where you do it in a way where you only release the
information that is necessary, without releasing
it in a way that could compromise individuals. Right. At the end of the day, if
you’re releasing statistics on tens of thousands
of individuals, the risk to any individual
is infinitesimally small. That’s why this is able to work. CRISTINA PAXSON:
So I think we only have time, sadly, for maybe
two or three more questions. And what I thought
we could do is collect randomly from around
the room, three questions. And then each of you
have a chance to ask. I can’t take all your questions. So with the microphone, randomly
pick one of these gentlemen and give him a microphone. Thank you. AUDIENCE: Hey, my name’s Rohan. I’m a student at Brown. I am in a student-run think
tank called Brown and Students for policy. One of our sub-teams is looking
at the state of mental health in Rhode Island. And I know Mayor Elorza, that
you mentioned SEL programs. I guess I have some
questions related to that. One, could you elaborate
what SEL programs you guys are developing
here in Providence. And for Professor
Friedman, could you talk about if
you’re looking, as part of the
Opportunity Atlas, at relationships
between mental health factors and social mobility,
or if that kind of research exists in the literature. CRISTINA PAXSON: OK, great. Thank you. So let’s collect another
question from up here. AUDIENCE: In addition to
taking children and moving them into more affluent
neighborhoods, my question is, what about
access to healthy water? Because we know
that children who are exposed to lead, either
in water or in paint, have very high cases
of ADHD, right? So there’s the water. What about training
the police force? I can just see that
without a police force who is aware of what
is happening, we’re going to end up with Trayvon
Martin incident, or a Starbucks incident, where you now have– I mean, we do have neighborhoods
that are predominantly white, and all of a sudden
you’re going to have an influx of different people. Which I think is
great, but the police need to be trained so that
we don’t have incidents that we’ve seen happening in
other parts of the country. And I think that’s
my full question. CRISTINA PAXSON: OK. And then we’re going
to pick one more. So we have mental health,
water, policing, and– right here. AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for
speaking your thoughts today. I was interested
in how Providence’s economic trajectory compared
to other places in America, and how that reflects the
city’s greater sociopolitical trajectory. CRISTINA PAXSON: Thank you. OK. That gives you both
something to work with. JORGE ELORZA: So I’ll
start off with SEL. And I think the SEL program
that I’m proudest of and that I’m most excited of
is the restorative justice practices that we’ve
implemented in our schools. And restorative
justice is effectively instead of punishing kids,
suspending them, giving them detention, and not addressing
the root cause of the issue, you get to having that
child, that person, recognize and articulate
the harm that they’ve caused to the community,
and also take accountability and take steps for
how they’re going to restore the community from
the harm that they’ve caused. And it’s been really
remarkable, the impact that we’ve had in Providence. We’ve reduced our out of school
suspensions dramatically. I think it’s something like
40% or 50% year over year, by investing in
restorative justice and changing our policies. I’ll also give
you one story that ties into our
summer jobs programs and our investment in people. We partner with
outside organizations that have relationships,
and can connect with kids that we simply don’t have direct
connections with in City Hall. So we partner with the Institute
for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence. And we funded a
summer jobs program. There’s a 20-year-old kid
who got his first summer job through this program. I went to his graduation,
and I’ll always remember what he said. He was so thankful and
appreciative when he got his graduation certificate. He said, when I came in for
an interview, they asked me, what are you going to do
if you don’t get this job? He said, if I
don’t get this job, I’ll likely go out and mug
someone later on today, like I did last night. And I’ll do it until I get
caught, and end up at the ACI again, like I had since
I was 14 years old. And it taught me the value
of a small investment that we can make to help a young
man get his life back on track. And we’ve been so impressed
by this young man, that he is now working in
one of our middle schools, working with at-risk
kids, and providing some of that social
emotional learning support, and teaching restorative justice
practices inside of the school. So there’s a way that we can
connect these all together. But we do things such as
practicing mindfulness in the classroom, practicing
concentration, practicing empathy and compassion. And we have a sticker system
that we now reward kids in the elementary
grades, so that they could feel as though this
is something that we value, and we want encourage
them to do more of it. So there’s a whole package
around social and emotional learning that we brought
into the school department. CRISTINA PAXSON:
Can you do anything on mental health with your data? JOHN FRIEDMAN: We can actually. And turns out that mental
health is the key driver, not just of all the problems
that you’re describing, but of young adults leaving the
workforce to go on disability. And we can actually
measure this. And we found two key facts
that I’ll tell you about– the intergenerational
roots of mental health as measured in disability. So the first thing is that we
think of the immediate presence of mental health
as something that may lead to the type
of destabilization that puts kids on the wrong path. But it turns out that in the
data, in the same way that I show you that earnings have
these local childhood roots, the same thing can be
said for mental health. So for instance, families
growing up in the same place, a rich family versus a poor
family is about five times less likely to have
a child grow up to be mentally
disabled in this way. And again, we’re thinking about
like extreme cases of stress, and other things that
cause young adults in their 20s and early
30s to go on disability. The other thing we see, which
is a really striking pattern, and gives you a sense of how
these things just don’t all align in the same way. So for most of the types of
outcomes you can look at– you can look at whether
kids go to college, you can look at whether kids
are earning good wages when they grow up from a given place– they all kind of align. Even if you look at things
something like incarceration, it’s not perfectly
correlated with employment or more economic outcomes, but
they’re pretty well correlated. A place that tends to put kids
on a pathway towards lower incarceration rates or
higher economic outcomes, those tend to go together. With disability
and mental health, it’s actually the reverse. Places that tend,
all else equal, to put kids towards higher
economic outcomes and lower incarceration rates,
generate higher rates of mental health-related
disabilities for kids in their 20s and 30s. CRISTINA PAXSON: That’s
really interesting. JOHN FRIEDMAN: Yeah, so
to be totally honest, I do not understand
exactly what’s going on. But if I were to make a map
for you of disability driven by mental health
cases across the US, it would basically look
like the reverse of the map that I showed you. And some of the highest
mental health rates from kids growing
up in the country are in states like Massachusetts
and New Hampshire actually. JORGE ELORZA: And
President, if I could just answer the young lady’s question
about the economic trajectory of the city. CHRISTINA PAXSON: Yeah, sure. JORGE ELORZA: At a macro
level, the job growth has been relatively flat. But if you look at
what has happened over the past
several years, we’re at a bit of an inflection point. So there’s been more
development in the city than we’ve had in a generation. The property values are higher. Increases are higher than we’ve
seen in a very, very long time. And people are visiting
the city as well. So our vacancy
rates at our hotels are as low as they’ve
been in anyone’s memory. So people want to live here,
people want to invest here, and people want to visit here. All of those are great
signs, but the reality is that Providence already
ranks in the top five cities. Think about all the
cities in the country. We rank in the top five
in income inequality. So already we start off at a
very difficult place in terms of economic distribution. And I’m deeply,
deeply concerned. If we are at an
inflection point, and progress is
going to continue to come to the city, people
who currently live here, who currently work
here, are they going to be able to
afford living in the city? A friend of mine often says,
sometimes a rising tide only lifts the yachts. [LAUGHTER] Instead we want every
boat to be lifted. And unless we’re
actively or proactively working to address
income inequality, left on its own devices, I see income
inequality actually growing. CHRISTINA PAXSON: Yeah. Good. Thank you. There was one other question–
water quality, policing. I don’t know if you look
at either of those things in your data, John. JOHN FRIEDMAN: So
we’ve studied lead. What we found to be,
if you look at lead coming from housing
construction, which I think, not in extreme cases
like Flint, but overall, the largest source of lead. You can learn a lot about
the lead in a housing stock basically from when
the houses were built, and from when they
phased out lead paint. And so that is a
pretty strong correlate of upward mobility across
counties in the United States. We don’t have it down to
the block level, just due to the data issues. But lead seems to
be a real issue. We know less about
criminal justice. It seems that it must be
extremely important, especially for kids coming from
certain backgrounds, the incarceration rates
of especially black men are off the charts. In a way, engagement with
the criminal justice system has to be a very
important aspect of that. But we’re actually in the
process of gathering data on different policing
practices, and how they’ve changed
across neighborhoods from a large city,
in order to really be able to study this
in much more detail. My instinct is that
it’s very important. I just don’t have
anything for you now. CHRISTINA PAXSON: So let me just
thank both of you for coming. It’s great to see the
conversation between the two of you. And Mayor, your commitment
to lifting all boat, not all yachts. I love that. And thanks, John, very
much, for your great work. And thanks everybody,
for coming. JOHN FRIEDMAN:
Thank you very much. JORGE ELORZA: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

3 thoughts on “Income Inequality and Social Mobility: Data Meets Policy in Providence

  1. If race and racism, generational poverty and discrimination aren't factored in, then it's pointless. White flight dictates policies that neglect center cities maps and charts all have adverse outcomes for black people

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