Community

People born poor are more likely to stay that way if they live in Jefferson County than if they live in surrounding Bullitt or Oldham counties, according to a recent Harvard study.

The Equality of Opportunity Project examined economic data from the country’s 100 most populated counties to determine where people have the highest, and least, chance of escaping poverty, as reported by The New York Times.

The study is meant to examine what impact a person’s neighborhood can have on their ability to be economically prosperous in their adult life.

Researchers found that a 26-year-old who grows up in Jefferson County will earn about 3.5 percent less money than someone who grew up in “an average place.” Girls who grow up in Jefferson County will earn nearly 7 percent less. The New York Times reports:

It’s below average in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 594th out of 2,478 counties, better than about 24 percent of countiesIt is relatively worse for girls than it is for boys.

To put this in a dollar amount, 20 years of growing up in Jefferson County will earn about $920 less than compared to growing up in an average county, the report shows.

For girls, it’s nearly $2,000 less.

In Bullitt County, just south of Jefferson County, 20 years of growing up will yield nearly $2,500 more than compared to an average county, the report shows. And in Oldham County it’s nearly $2,300 more. The Times adds:

How neighborhoods affect children “has been a quandary with which social science has been grappling for decades,” said David B. Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University, who was not involved in the research. “This delivers the most compelling evidence yet that neighborhoods matter in a really big way.”

So what do these statistics mean locally?

For starters, it’s important to note that the results, though staggering and accurate, are not presented in full context, said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

What he means is that a simple move to a neighboring county won’t necessarily solve a family’s economic problems.

But there are some key takeaways to be gathered from reports like these, he said.

The report can serve as a reminder that an individual’s health, education level and overall well-being correlates to family economics, Brooks said.

“We’ve got to look hard at housing patterns, we have to have prominent community leaders not accept the achievement gap that Jefferson County schools have right now,  very much based on income equality,” he added.

Brooks encouraged local leaders to fight economic injustice.

“If we really want to be a compassionate community, it’s not nearly as much about give a day, but give a darn about economic injustice,” he said.

 Update 

Jessica Wethington, a spokeswoman for the city’s economic development department, said the stats presented in the study “are the exact reason we are trying to grow jobs and wages across the city.”

“It’s why we are spending time on the Food Port,” she said in an email. “It’s also why we have the Safe Healthy Neighborhoods strategy, the SummerWorks program and our successful Code Louisville program.”

 

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.