Moving to a Low-Poverty Area Supports Health and Happiness

Moving to a Low-Poverty Area Supports Health and Happiness
Jens Ludwig, Greg Duncan, Lisa Gennetian, Lawrence Katz, Ronald Kessler, Lisa Sanbonmatsu
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Helping families move to higher opportunity areas can support residents' health and happiness, but moving is not a panacea for the complicated problems low-income families face, according to the paper "Neighborhood Effects on the Long-Term Well-Being of Low-Income Adults". Much research has been done on the the effects of living in a poor neighborhood with few resources. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designed the Moving to Opportunity program to understand the impact of moving low-income households out of high-poverty neighborhoods. The program randomly allotted housing vouchers to families that enabled them to move from high- to low-poverty areas. The experiment included residents across five cities: Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Ten to fifteen years later, earnings, hours worked, health, and happiness were compared to families that did not receive vouchers. While moving to a low-poverty neighborhood was associated with increased happiness and better health, it did not significantly improve educational or employment outcomes. Additional social services may be needed to make progress in these areas.

Major findings:

  • Moving to more affluent neighborhoods improved residents' health and happiness, including lowering obesity and diabetes among women.
  • Stress associated with a lack of safety in high-poverty neighborhoods is a driver of negative health outcomes.
  • Moving to more affluent neighborhoods did not significantly improve employment and educational outcomes, perhaps because the lower-poverty neighborhoods did not have significantly more job opportunities.
  • Employment, training and education services are needed in poor neighborhoods to improve employment and educational outcomes.