Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty

Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty

Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty

Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty

Synopsis

Moving to Opportunity tackles one of America's most enduring dilemmas: the great, unresolved question of how to overcome persistent ghetto poverty. Launched in 1994, the MTO program took a largely untested approach: helping families move from high-poverty, inner-city public housing to low-poverty neighborhoods, some in the suburbs. The book's innovative methodology emphasizes the voices and choices of the program's participants but also rigorously analyzes the changing structures of regional opportunity and constraint that shaped the fortunes of those who "signed up." It shines a light on the hopes, surprises, achievements, and limitations of a major social experiment. As the authors make clear, for all its ambition, MTO is a uniquely American experiment, and this book brings home its powerful lessons for policymakers and advocates, scholars, students, journalists, and all who share a deep concern for opportunity and inequality in our country.

Excerpt

This book centers on three questions. First, where does low-income housing assistance belong in the effort to reform economic opportunity policies appropriate to the twenty-first century? This question has assumed a new urgency and new political dimensions in the context of America’s most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression and the most sweeping electoral mandate—that won by Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, in November 2008—in more than a generation. the urgency of reform, the prospects of “leveraging” the crisis to create an economy that benefits everyone and not just the affluent, and the tough fiscal choices that confront us at a time of enormous budget deficits—all these factors underscore how important it is to inform the policy debate with good evidence. This is true even, and perhaps especially, when the evidence comes with surprises for those on both the Left and the Right of the body politic.

Second, how can we improve the quality of life of poor people—in particular, of poor families who endure the severe challenges of raising children in violent ghetto neighborhoods—even as we also look for ways to help them escape poverty? We will show why dramatically improving quality of life, such as by buffering people from violence and the constant fear of victimization, is possible, necessary, and just. But we will also show how different it is from helping people escape income poverty. the failure to see this distinction clearly and judge public policy and private initiative fairly in light of this distinction has led to much disappointment and confusion. Here again, the Left and Right bear responsibility for adding to that confusion and the political impasse it often compounds. If the first question is defined by opportunity, the second reminds us of the importance of security—economic, physical, mental, and other kinds. Security is essential to leading a decent life even if one must live poor or live poor for a time, and ironically, it is easy to miss this by focusing exclusively on “opportunity” in education, work, or other domains.

Third and finally, as the nation responds to the economic crisis that was triggered by a credit crisis in real estate, how should we rebuild the “housing ladder”? How can we take a much more balanced approach, one that does not shortchange affordable rental housing for the sake of promoting homeownership first and last? We will show how and why such . . .

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