Next City: Opportunity atlas provides another chance to review redlining’s legacy

Next City, October 3, 2018: Opportunity atlas provides another chance to review redlining’s legacy

Harvard University economist Raj Chetty made a splash a few years ago with his analysis of anonymized federal income tax records for 40 million individuals, revealing in unprecedented terms the unequal geography of intergenerational mobility. More than four years later, Chetty, along with a team of researchers from Harvard, Brown and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Sonya Porter and Maggie Jones, teamed up to create The Opportunity Atlas, illustrating that unequal geography down to the census-tract level. The atlas and its data were made available to the public on Monday.

The project combines anonymous data from the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Census Bureau, and follows 20 million Americans from childhood to their mid-30s. Among other data points, the maps show how children who grew up in each census tract ultimately ended up.

But it’s the local disparities in intergenerational mobility that policymakers will find most compelling, the Times’ Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui reported. Chetty found, according to NPR’s Morning Edition, that if a person moves out of a neighborhood with worse prospects into to a neighborhood with better outlooks, that move increases lifetime earnings for low-income children by an average of $200,000.

The patterns of disinvestment, while not perfectly aligned, are striking in similarity to the Opportunity Atlas’ neighborhood-level findings. A historical map of NYC, from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, shows the green and purple areas where federal agencies would provide mortgage insurance to incentivize lending to homeowners and developers, versus the red and yellow areas where such incentives were denied to developers. Federal records show the color-coding was largely based on race, giving rise to the term ‘redlining’ as a shorthand for discriminating against lending applicants of color.

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