My recent column took on a sobering report by economists at Harvard and University of California at Berkeley that poor children growing up in certain cities will have a far more difficult time escaping poverty than others. Check out this New York Times interactive and map of the “Equality of Opportunity” project.
The reasons make sense: some cities, Atlanta for example, are sprawling behemoths where good jobs, schools and housing are located geographically out of reach for low-income families, many of whom often lack cars or other reliable transportation. Cities most likely to engender success, including Seattle, have strong economies and accessible public services.
Readers responded with views that often diverged on their personal ascents out of poverty:
Anna Bee wondered what researchers, and my column, meant by economic “success.” This reader also appeared to take issue with my mentioning social safety nets as key to successfully moving out of poverty.
“I am betting it has everything to do with how graciously one accepts handouts. I’ve never been good at that. We just weren’t raised that way. Maybe it is because our zip code was always changing so that my mother and father could keep us fed without having to ask for hand outs.”
Good ole Preposterousness from Idaho offered a sobering truth: “In today’s economy you can do everything right, including being born in the correct ZIP code, and still fall out of the middle class.” Indeed.
Warren Trout expressed a sunny optimism that, to me, begged credulity.
“I’ve traveled the world. This is the land of opportunity. Anyone can make it good here. You just have to want it.”
My view: If only “wanting” something badly were enough to make jobs miraculously appear, or erase the miles of distance between affordable homes and jobs, good schools or healthcare. If wanting were enough, many communities would dramatically transform overnight.
I think we can all agree that poverty should not be destiny. I believe city and regional planners play a role ensuring geographical equity of amenities such as public transportation lines, shopping centers, good schools and local businesses.