The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Columns

March 11, 2014

Bill Stanczykiewicz: Project studies poverty, inequality and opportunity in Indiana

(Continued)

The same is true of the other Indiana regions below the national median for economic mobility. Cities in those regions include Bloomington, Terre Haute, Gary, Evansville, Columbus, Elkhart, Fort Wayne and Kokomo.

The researchers found several factors impacting economic mobility. Segregation, by income or race, limits access to public services as well as information, role models and other precursors of economic success.

Quality K-12 education is essential, as is additional education after high school. Also, high rates of teen pregnancy reduce a region’s prospects for economic advancement.

Solutions, meanwhile, can be found in community and family. Abraham explained that regions with high levels of “social capital” enjoy higher levels of economic mobility. “It’s about involvement in your community and interactions among people,” Abraham said, noting the unique influence of community groups, neighborhood associations and religious congregations.

Most important, according to the Harvard research, is family structure, especially the prevalence of single parent households. “This actually turns out to be the single strongest correlate of upward mobility we find in the data,” explained economics professor Raj Chetty who leads the Harvard project. In a presentation to the World Bank, Chetty reported, “The fraction of kids being raised by married parents in an area is an incredibly strong predictor of rates of upward mobility.”

Without discounting the importance of the other factors, Chetty and his colleagues place priority on raising educational outcomes to improve economic results – starting at the earliest grades.

“There’s an incredibly powerful relationship between kindergarten test scores and earnings 20 to 25 years later,” Chetty told the World Bank. “If we can figure out (how to help more of our youngest students succeed academically), we can potentially have really big effects on children’s success.”

This year’s 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty finds Congress and the Indiana Legislature debating which policies are best to reduce inequality and increase economic opportunity. While those debates are important, local communities in the Hoosier State can focus on the family, community and educational factors that impact child well-being and strengthen opportunities for economic success.

Bill Stanczykiewicz, former Anderson radio sports broadcaster, is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at iyi@iyi.org.

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