Do health problems really occur more often in very poor neighborhoods compared to wealthy neighborhoods, and if so, what are the effects? A recently published study, co-authored by a professor at the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) means it is also harder for families to move out of poverty if they live in high-poverty neighborhoods and if their children have health problems. “If families started out with a sick child in the home, they were much less likely to be able to move to a low-poverty neighborhood,” says Mariana Arcaya, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and co-author of a new paper detailing the study’s results.
The underlying data for this study are information from the federal government’s Moving to Opportunity (MTO) Program. Within the framework of this program, launched in 1994, poor families got the opportunity to move to new neighborhoods through the support of a voucher. In this way, it was maybe easier to improve their financial situation if they live in more wealthy districts. The study considered 5,000 American families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. The results are indicating a coherence between the occurrence of child-health problems and the number of families moving to less poor areas. Fifty percent of families without health issues were using the chance to move from high-poverty to low-poverty neighborhoods. But only 38 percent of families with a child-health problem were moving too. Moreover, families with child illnesses who did move settled into neighborhoods where the poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher, on average, than the places where families without child-health problems settled.
“Movers that had a sick child were moving to slightly poorer neighborhoods,” Arcaya says. “Having that additional challenge in the family restricted people’s options.”