On October 1, researchers from Harvard and Brown University released the Opportunity Atlas, a mapping tool the aims to address the basic question how much location influences outcomes. The mapping tool is comprised of U.S. Census tract-level datasets from the 2000 and 2010 decennial Censuses as well as data from Internal Revenue Service federal income tax returns and the 2005-2015 Census American Community Surveys (ACS) to evaluate income, parental characteristics, children's neighborhoods, and other variables.
Those data sets were used to evaluate children’s outcomes in adulthood, such as earnings distributions and incarceration rates by parental income, race, and gender. Based on that information, the tool aims to trace poverty and incarceration rates, for instance, to neighborhoods in which children grew up.
"You see that for kids turning 30 today, who were born in the mid-1980s, only 50 percent of them go on to earn more than their parents did," said Harvard University economist Raj Chetty, one of the researchers who built the tool. He added that the information can help pinpoint the places where lots of kids are climbing the income ladder and "the places where the outcomes don't look as good," he says.
These data points add further weight to conversations around equity and how much one’s zip code can determine his/her future, to a significant extent. In an interview on the tool, Chetty shared that the Atlas demonstrates how 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 $200,000.
In some cases, the mapping tool shows that those differences can be just miles apart. Unfortunately, the tool also shows significant work that needs to be done to address racial inequities as research showed that earnings and incarceration rates can vary dramatically for white, black, and Hispanic men even when they are raised in the same neighborhoods and hite men experience better upward income mobility than black men virtually everywhere in the country
Moving forward, Prosperity Indiana plans to use this robust tool to help members utilize this data to influence community development plans and initiatives. The conversations must focus on removing barriers to affordability and opportunity in identified low-performing areas so that prosperity is not out of reach for any Hoosier.