Is your neighborhood offering children the best chance in life?

The Census Bureau, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard and Brown, has published nationwide data that makes it possible to pinpoint – down to the census tract, a level relevant to individual families – where children of all backgrounds have the best shot at getting ahead.

Nationwide, the variation is striking. Children raised in poor families in some neighborhoods of Memphis, for example, went on to make just $16,000 a year in their adult households; children from families of similar means living in parts of the Minneapolis suburbs ended up making four times as much.

The local disparities, however, are the most curious, and the most compelling to policymakers. In one of the tracts just north of Seattle’s 115th Street — a place that looks similarly leafy, with access to the same middle school — poor children went on to households earning about $5,000 less per year than children raised in another nearby neighborhood, Northgate. They were more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to be employed.

The researchers believe much of this variation is driven by the neighborhoods themselves, not by differences in what brings people to live in them. The more years children spend in a good neighborhood, the greater the benefits they receive. And what matters, the researchers find, is a hyper-local setting: the environment within about half a mile of a child’s home.

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