Why are some poor kids able to escape their meager circumstances—and contra today’s widespread cynicism about the American dream, a significant number still do—while others stay tangled in poverty’s net? No researcher has dug into this question more deeply or more fastidiously than Harvard economist Raj Chetty, chief author of two new, much celebrated, papers (see here and here). In many respects, the hype is justified, but one critical evasion has gone unnoticed by an overeager media.
Let’s begin, though, with the papers’ primary finding. The authors conclude that cross-class relationships, or what they call “economic connectedness” (EC), are the strongest predictor of low-income children’s success. More colloquially, poor children who get to mingle with higher-income people (meaning higher than median income, not “rich” or “wealthy” as many journalists have mistakenly written) earn more as adults than poor children who only interact with other poor people. A “dosage effect” supports the theory: the younger children are when they move to an area with strong EC, the stronger their chance of moving up the income ladder as adults.
Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of several books, most recently The New Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
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