13 Nov Module 7 Poverty and Wealth Disparities After reading the articles and watching the video write a quick summary and what they both have in common. Word Count: 400-500 https://comptroller.nyc.
Module 7 Poverty and Wealth Disparities
After reading the articles and watching the video write a quick summary and what they both have in common. Word Count: 400-500
“Not Just a Lateral Move”: Residential Decisions and the Reproduction of Urban Inequality Stefanie DeLuca* Johns Hopkins University
Christine Jang-Trettien Princeton University
Despite decades of research on residential mobility and neighborhood effects, we know comparatively less about how people sort across geography. In recent years, scholars have been calling for research that considers residential selection as a so- cial stratification process. In this paper, we present findings from work our team has done over the last 17 years to explore how people end up living where they do, relying in large part on systematically sampled in-depth narrative interviews with families. We focus on four key decisions: whether to move; where to move; whether to send children to school in the neighborhood; and whether to rent or own a home. We found that many residential mobility decisions among the poor were “re- active,” with unpredictable shocks forcing families out of their homes. As a result of reactive moving, housing search time frames became shorter and poor parents employed short-term survival solutions to secure housing instead of long-term in- vestment thinking about neighborhood and school district quality. These shocks, constraints, and compressed time frames led parents to decouple some dimensions of neighborhoods and schools from the housing search process while maximizing others, like immediacy of shelter, unit quality, and proximity to work and child care. Finally, we found that policies can significantly shape and better support some of these decisions. Combined, our research revealed some of the processes that under- lie locational attainment and the intergenerational transmission of neighborhood context.
Decades of research have demonstrated that the neighborhoods where children grow up play a significant part in shaping their developmental, social, and economic trajecto- ries. Poor and racially segregated neighborhoods diminish children’s health and educa- tional prospects, while more affluent communities can increase long-term social and eco- nomic mobility (Acevedo-Garcia et al. 2004; Chetty et al. 2016; Crane 1991; Harding 2003; Sampson et al. 2008). American inequality has a spatial dimension, with residential race and income segregation persisting or even growing over time (Galster and Sharkey 2017; Jargowsky and Wheeler 2017; Logan and Stults 2011; Reardon and Bischoff 2011). There- fore, we must understand how families end up sorted into different neighborhoods.
∗Correspondence should be addressed to Stefanie DeLuca, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD; [email protected]
City & Community 19:3 September 2020 doi: 10.1111/cico.12515 © 2020 American Sociological Association, 1430 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20005
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However, while there is ample research on residential mobility and neighborhood ef- fects, we know comparatively less about how people sort across geography. We know that the poormovemore often than their affluent counterparts (Gramlich et al. 1992; Quillian 2003), but less about why they gain so little improvement in neighborhood quality with each successive residential change. Previous research shows that minority families report preferences to live in diverse neighborhoods, but seldom end up where they say they want to live (Charles 2000; Ellen 2000; Krysan and Crowder 2017). Long-standing research has emphasized the significance of overt structural barriers like racial discrimination in the housing market (Massey and Denton 1993; Turner et al. 2013), but fair housing legis- lation has, in theory, removed many of these obstacles, generating new questions about why neighborhood inequality is so durable over time. Thus, we need research focused squarely on residential selection processes to understand urban inequality, poverty, and racial segregation. In this paper, we present findings that focus on how families with children end up
living where they do. Our efforts are part of a growing literature on residential selection and housing search processes. We agree with Bruch and Feinberg (2017) that sociol- ogists have not studied decision-making to the same extent as other fields (cf. Vaisey and Valentino 2010). As we discuss below, we think that there are at least two reasons sociologists have been slow to examine residential decisions. First, such topics might have made scholars skittish in earlier times: by examining why poor and minority families live in low-income neighborhoods, one’s research might be interpreted as “blaming the victim.” Second, research on neighborhood effects has prioritized causal inference, with research designs that have traditionally focused on minimizing selection bias. But now scholars are calling for research that considers selection as a social stratification process, one ripe with significant conceptual and policy potential (e.g., Krysan and Crowder 2017; Rosen 2017; Sampson 2012b). Here, we describe what we have learned about how low-income families make residen-
tial decisions in the face of constraints, on the basis of their past experiences, and in the context of policy opportunities that aim to increase residential choice. Our paper draws on work our team has done over the last 17 years to explore how people end up living where they do.1 Throughout the paper, we refer to a collective “we”—our larger team of collaborators, many of whom coauthored papers we cite here, including Kathryn Edin (who codirected several of the studies with DeLuca), Phil Garboden, Eva Rosen, Peter Rosenblatt, Barbara Condliffe, Melody Boyd, Anna Rhodes, Ann Owens, Allison Young, Kiara Nerenberg, Meredith Greif, Jennifer Darrah-Okike, Hope Harvey, Kelley Fong, and Holly Wood.2 We focus on four key decisions from this collaborative work that are impli- cated in the sorting of households across urban space: whether to move; where to move; whether to send children to school in the neighborhood; and whether to rent or own a home. Most sociologists acknowledge that the canonical rational actor model is quite limited,
favoring instead models that consider how people’s decisions and behavior are shaped by their circumstances. Yet, we seldom know how residential decisions get made, especially for families who lack the resources to secure the complete package of quality housing, safe communities, and high performing schools (cf. Rhodes and Warkentien 2017). Most studies of residential mobility rest on assumptions that often go unsaid or untested about how people actually make choices about where to live and where to send their children to school, and how these decisions are connected to each other (for exceptions, see Harvey
NOT JUST A LATERAL MOVE
et al. 2019, discussed below, Krysan and Crowder 2017; Rosen 2017). Our work has cen- tered on these often invisible processes, and in doing so, has identified some dynamics of spatial sorting, described strategies families use for making residential decisions that may reproduce inequality, and shown how understanding these mechanisms improves hous- ing policy. Fieldwork using systematically sampled in-depth interviews with nearly 1,200 households in five different cities over 17 years has revealed that in the face of limited re- sources and life shocks, the residential and school decisions of poor parents shared some common features. First, many residential mobility decisions among the poor were “reactive”—during our
fieldwork, we rarely saw evidence of planned, calculated housing searches. Most poor families were forced to move in the wake of unpredictable shocks that included housing quality failure, housing policy, neighborhood violence, and landlord decisions (DeLuca et al. 2018; Harvey et al. 2019; Rosenblatt and DeLuca 2012).3 Second, as a result of re- active moving, housing search time frames became shorter. Poor parents, making res- idential choices under duress, leveraged short-term survival solutions to secure housing instead of long-term investment thinking about neighborhoods, school quality and home- ownership. Low-income parents avoided worst case scenarios for where to live—like opt- ing for “anywhere but the housing projects” and steering clear of first floor apartments— rather than deliberately aiming for what might have been the most beneficial neighbor- hoods they could find (DeLuca et al. 2019; Harvey et al. 2019). Third, these shocks, constraints, and shorter time frames led parents to decouple im-
portant aspects of neighborhood and school quality from the housing search process; their focus was on securing shelter, while maximizing unit quality and proximity to work and child care (DeLuca and Rosenblatt 2010; Rhodes and DeLuca 2014; Rosenblatt and DeLuca 2012; DeLuca et al. 2019). Rather than bundle housing and school decisions as assumed by previous research (e.g., Shlay 1985), low-income parents were more likely to make school choices after they found a place to live (DeLuca et al. 2018; Rhodes and DeLuca 2014), and some low-income African American parents in Baltimore decided to purchase homes after their children had completed school (Jang-Trettien 2019a). Finally, we learned that policies can have a significant impact on some of these decisions. Some housing policies meant to increase residential options (like the Housing Choice Voucher [HCV] program) actually limited residential choices, while innovative housing mobility policies with more generous supports increased neighborhood options by removing bar- riers and broadening how parents thought about residential and school choice (Bergman et al. 2020; Darrah and DeLuca 2014; DeLuca et al. 2013; Edin et al. 2012). Combined, our research revealed some of the processes that underlie locational attain-
ment and the intergenerational transmission of neighborhood context (Logan and Alba 1993; Sharkey 2008; 2013; South and Crowder 1997, 2005). While this paper was writ- ten prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our findings are perhaps even more relevant now. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the already existing housing crisis in the United States; with unemployment rates more than tripling in the first three months of the pan- demic, an enormous eviction wave looms on the horizon. As more families are forced to make “reactive” moves under duress and financial constraints, our research has poten- tial to highlight the consequences for households and neighborhoods, as well as provide guidance on how to respond to such a fast-moving crisis. In this paper, we start by considering why sociologists have been slow to study residen-
tial decisions among the poor, and then discuss the value of studying decision-making for
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understanding residential sorting, especially through narrative interviews. We then dis- cuss what our team found out about why people live where they do, and situate our work within the broader research literature. We summarize our previous and in-progress re- search, connecting themes we observed across different cities. When applicable, we com- pare findings for families by income levels and show how some processes vary or look similar by race/ethnicity.
WHY ARE SOCIOLOGISTS ONLY RECENTLY STUDYING RESIDENTIAL DECISIONS?
FEAR OF BLAMING THE VICTIM
Over the last few decades in urban sociology, there has been at worst an avoidance and at best an ambivalence about explicitly studying the choices and decisions of low-income and other marginalized groups (Bruch and Feinberg 2017; Small et al. 2010; Vaisey and Valentino 2010; Wilson 2009). Although scholars like Lee Rainwater, Elliot Liebow, Ulf Hannerz, and others had been writing about the social organization of poor neighbor- hoods in the 1960s and 1970s, the trajectory of this scholarship changed after the late 1960s, in the wake of the infamously interpreted Moynihan (1965) report on the Black family, and the overly deterministic cultural work of Lewis (1966) and Banfield (1970). For some time, academics feared that their work could be subjected to these “culture of poverty” interpretations or the “welfare queen” caricature that pervaded policy discus- sions from the 1980s onward (Edin and Schaefer 2015; Ryan 1971; Wilson 1991; Wright 1993). In other words, by examining the choices and behavior of the poor, researchers were worried about implying that the suboptimal choices and “nonmainstream” values of disadvantaged and minority families could be construed as primary explanations for their plight. For decades after the Moynihan report, sociologists chose not to focus on the be- havior of the poor, emphasizing structural explanations over cultural ones and avoiding discussions of values and preferences (see Small and Newman 2001; Swidler 1986; Wil- son 2009). William Julius Wilson himself was criticized for concluding that the changes in urban demography and economy that took place in the later part of the 20th century shaped behavioral, adaptive, and cultural responses to work and concentrated poverty. As Wilson writes:
We only need to be reminded of what transpired following the controversy over theMoynihan Report on the Black family in the late 1960s. The vitriolic attacks and acrimonious debate that characterized that controversy proved to be too intimidating to scholars, especially to liberal scholars. Indeed, in the aftermath of this controversy and in an effort to protect their work from the charge of racism or of "blaming the victim," liberal social scientists tended to avoid describing any behavior that could be construed as unflattering or stigmatizing to racial minorities. Accordingly, for a period of several years, and well after this controversy had subsided, the growing problems of poverty concentration, joblessness, and other social dislocations in the inner-city ghetto did not attract serious research attention. (1991, p. 598)
Many regard Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) as the book that changed the direction of urban studies and brought the study of poverty, culture, and behavior “back in” (Small and Newman 2001; Small et al. 2010; Jencks, quoted in Parry 2012). This work sparked decades of research focused on the behavioral and social consequences of
NOT JUST A LATERAL MOVE
living in economically and racially segregated neighborhoods (see Parry 2012). Although the book offered a strong structural argument, Wilson also concluded that exposure to high-poverty neighborhoods not only isolated poor minority families from important resources, but also led to behavioral adaptations he called “concentration effects,” such as weak attachments to work, welfare dependency, and single parenthood, which, in turn, perpetuated poverty.4 Wilson’s next book,When Work Disappears (1996), further described structural changes in the economy that led to the exodus of work from the urban ghetto. It included accounts of Black men in Chicago who reported wanting to work, but who suffered from diminished self-efficacy following long-term unemployment, making it difficult to secure job opportunities. Shortly after When Work Disappears, Edin and Lein’s (1997) Making Ends Meet focused
more explicitly on decision-making, changing the way we think about how low-income parents make choices under constrained circumstances. Edin and Lein examined the be- havior of a stigmatized group: single mothers receiving welfare. Conducting hundreds of in-depth qualitative interviews in four cities with varying levels of public benefits and liv- ing costs, the detailed budget data they collected illuminated why so many single mothers “chose” welfare over employment. They found that in every locale they examined, welfare benefits fell far short of living costs. Ironically, to balance their budgets, most of these mothers worked—albeit under the table– because each $1 earned led to about a $1 loss in benefits. Working in the formal labor market would crowd out time available for these informal jobs, as well as incur more costs (for transportation, childcare, clothing, and health care). In short, many of the single mothers in their study claimed that they could not afford to go to work in the formal labor market.5
In the years sinceWhen Work Disappears andMaking Ends Meet were published, there has been a growing literature describing how social structure and culture shape individual behavior and decisions of the urban poor.6 Such studies have focused on the marriage and fertility decisions of poor parents and young adults (Bell et al. 2018; Edin and Ke- falas 2005; Edin and Nelson 2013), street vendors’ decisions about whether to use public bathrooms (Duneier 1999), young adults’ decisions about participation in low-wage work (Newman 1999; Venkatesh 2008; Young 2003) or getting “caught up” in the street (Jones 2010; Rosenblatt et al. 2015), students’ postsecondary education decisions (Deterding 2015; Harding 2010; Holland andDeLuca 2016) and financial decisions (Sykes et al. 2015; Wherry et al. 2019; Zelizer 2017). Collectively, these studies upend conventional assump- tions about the seemingly irrational behavior of the poor. The aforementioned studies have shown us that lapses in contraception sometimes signal trust in young relationships (Bell et al. 2018), public urination can be an attempt to avoid embarrassing encounters with restaurant patrons (Duneier 1999), low-wage jobs provide an alternative to the street or a meaningful way to provide for one’s family (Newman 1999; Rosenblatt et al. 2015), and that aiming for subbaccalaureate certifications instead of a four-year degree is both an aspirational identity and an employment strategy (Deterding 2015; Holland and DeLuca 2016). Previous literature also demonstrates that what are often perceived by the outside world as frivolous financial decisions are choices made to support loved ones or occasion- ally treat children so that they feel special (Sykes et al. 2015; Wherry et al. 2019). Rather than stemming from deviant values, this scholarship, in fact, shows strong ad-
herence to mainstream norms about family and work among the poor. Many of these decisions are strategic, adaptive, and meaningful responses to resource constraints and isolated environments that make widely shared goals less possible. Such research also
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reveals how the poor envision alternative courses of action, which gives us a more detailed understanding of their circumstances, the strategies they deploy, how they see trade-offs, and why their efforts do not necessarily translate into conventional markers of success. Without these sociological examinations of decision-making, critics on the right can con- tinue to cast the decisions of the poor in moral terms, rather than in the context of their social and economic circumstances, as centuries of U.S. policymaking have done (Katz 1996). It is our contention that good policy rests on an in-depth understanding about how the poor actually make decisions, whether the decisions are about trade-offs between work and welfare or the decisions about where to live.
FOCUS ON SELECTION “BIAS”
Another reason we think we have only recently seen the move toward studying residen- tial decision-making and neighborhood choice is methodological. With the expansion of panel survey data linked to neighborhood and school-level variables and advances in statistical software, the last 30 years of quantitative literature on residential sorting has allowed us to observe the unequal distribution of people across urban space. Such work has also identified some of the important economic and social predictors of those distri- butions, such as race, income, and metropolitan-level characteristics. However, this work is limited in its ability to shed light on the decision-making processes that help explain how individuals ended up living where they do. As Bruch and Feinberg (2017) argue, such “quantitative analysis is typically conducted without reference to—let alone a model of—individual action” (p. 210). Traditional quantitative analyses of housing search and neighborhood selection invoke a rational actor framework, assuming perfect information, voluntary decisions, and a consideration of the full menu of housing units and communi- ties in a given area, as well as all of their dimensions and implications for family life. Thus, for some time, these processes remained implicitly assumed rather than empirically ex- plored. However, more recent advances in modeling neighborhood and school choice (e.g., Bruch and Swait 2019; Burdick-Will et al. 2020) and an increased appreciation for qualitative work in the social sciences (Newman and Massengill 2006) are paving the way for a more realistic understanding of residential decisions and how they differ by income, race, and other socio-economic factors. We also think that a focus on the causal effects of neighborhoods has drawn attention
away from the study of residential decisions. Motivated by Wilson’s powerful thesis in The Truly Disadvantaged, research has long-been centered on the task of showing whether neighborhoods have causal effects on developmental, economic, and social outcomes, and whether these effects help explain inequality (Brooks-Gunn et al. 1997; Mayer and Jencks 1989; Sampson et al. 2002; Sharkey and Faber 2014). Such research on neighbor- hood effects has had to grapple with the fact that families are not randomly scattered across social settings, but instead choose (perhaps to different degrees) dwellings, neigh- borhoods, and schools, and as such it is difficult to tell whether these environments have independent causal effects on children. Parents’ individual characteristics and resources (i.e., income, employment, education, and past experiences) affect where they decide to live and also affect children’s outcomes (Manski 1995; Moffitt 2004; Winship and Morgan 1999). Therefore, researchers have typically focused on ruling out the contribution of selection processes from models estimating neighborhood effects, rather than studying
NOT JUST A LATERAL MOVE
them directly as explanations for urban inequality. Such fundamental issues of course deserve much attention, especially when it comes to making decisions about which anti-poverty policies to invest in. For example, is it more effective to provide direct cash transfers to families, or help families move to higher opportunity areas? However, much gets lost in the pursuit of causal estimates of neighborhood effects
by “purging” the complexity of people’s choices from our research on urban inequality. Sampson (2012a) notes, it is almost as if scholars are, “spooked into thinking that choice renders the environment impotent” (p. 374).Without such work, we cannot learn asmuch about how structure, agency, and culture interact to produce residential outcomes, and because of that, we do not learn nearly as much as we could to improve policies aimed at reducing neighborhood inequality. In our research, we looked explicitly at these se- lection processes, particularly the ones implicated in residential and school choices, and those that occured in response to policy interventions aimed at neighborhood choice. We think that it is vital to ask people directly how they choose where to live and decide where to send their children to school. In other words, we need to understand how people “vote with their feet,” to use Tiebout’s (1956) classic terminology, when they have such unequal access to resources. The good news is that, in this regard, we are far from lone voices, and instead, we join a growing chorus of scholars who argue that we must study selec- tion processes as social processes (Bruch and Swait 2019; Carrillo et al. 2016; Heckman et al. 1998; Krysan and Bader 2007; Krysan and Crowder 2017; Moffitt 2004; Sampson and Sharkey 2008). We—along with Sampson (2008, 2012a) and others—argue that the processes through which families make decisions about where to live should themselves be considered neighborhood effects.7
Experiences living in disadvantaged neighborhoods affect social networks, knowledge, and perceptions of schools and neighborhoods, and the context in which individuals make residential moves (Bruch andMare 2006; Krysan and Bader 2007; Krysan and Crow- der 2017). These factors, in return, shape what Elizabeth Bruch and colleagues have called “cognitively plausible” frameworks for approaching how individuals make decisions about housing and neighborhoods (Bruch et al. 2015). As Krysan and Crowder (2017) also ar- gue, racially disparate mobility decisions play a crucial role in maintaining racial segre- gation. Therefore, we need to pay greater attention to how people search for, select, and secure among different residential options.
HOW WE STUDY HOW PEOPLE MAKE DECISIONS
THE VALUE OF TALK
There are many ways to study residential decisions. Researchers have used quantitative methods (leveraging observed residential outcomes, cf. South and Crowder 1997), net- work methods with administrative data (Burdick-Will et al. 2020), vignettes presenting hypothetical choices with randomly varying characteristics of the housing bundle (cf. Emerson et al. 2001), and simulations (such as agent-based modeling, cf. Bruch and Mare 2006). We have primarily used systematically sampled interviews with supplemen- tal ethnography in most of the studies we review here. In these interviews, we ask people to tell us about who they are and what their personal history is, as well as take us through their residential histories, children’s school trajectories and family background (see Ap- pendix in DeLuca et al. 2016; Boyd and DeLuca 2017.)
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Importantly, in our interviews, we do not ask why people did things, we ask how things happened, and invite families to “tell me about that,” whether it be the story of how they ended up at their current home or how their children ended up changing schools. The information we gather from these interviews is conceptually rich, not only because inter- views can describe to some extent what people do, but also, as Pugh (2013) notes, because interviews “can access different levels of information about people’s motivation, beliefs, meanings, feelings and practice” (p. 50). When it comes to studying residential sorting, we do not know a lot about how people “got to that decision” (Bruch and Feinberg 2017, p. 209; Krysan and Crowder 2017), what drives preferences, or why people might respond differently to a social setting or social policy. Our interviews gather housing histories and residential moves over time through repeat follow-ups, housing search simulations, and policy experiments, to reveal the often unseen meaning, trade-offs, and logics parents ap- ply to their decisions about when to move, where to live, where to send their children to school, and whether to rent or purchase a home. Most scholars acknowledge that people are not pure rational actors in the classical
sense, but we know less about how they optimize under constraints when it comes to residential and school decisions. What do families believe their options are and what are the important characteristics of those options? How do families find places to live when they have limited resources and time? What trade-offs do families make and how do these differ by household characteristics? What do families prioritize in residential decisions and how might this differ by income and race? Which strategies make those trade-offs more or less costly? Over the course of our research, our interviews began to focus increasingly on how parents and caregivers considered different residential options, the criteria they reported using when seeking housing and schools, and the experiences that shaped the way they approached housing searches and school decisions. They also told us what was meaningful to them during all of these processes, how their homes, schools, and neighborhoods at times fell short of what they wanted for their children, and what they did to handle those shortcomings. Importantly, these accounts also re- vealed what parents believed the alternatives to their eventual choices looked like, which is hard to observe outside of direct conversation. Through this work, we learned about some of the adaptations to resource constraints that produce “strategies of action” (Swi- dler 1986) and may reduce some risks—like exposure to an abusive romantic partner or neighborhood violence (see Rosen 2017)—but may also hinder other benefits like social mobility. Of course, relying on interview data has risks. One, as we mention earlier, is that
by asking people to tell us about their lives, we are asking people to explain their lives and this risks “blaming the victim.” But while there is always a risk that work will be interpreted this way, we think that there is great value in the in-depth narrative interview. Rather than viewing such accounts as potentially shaming or disempowering, we should consider what people say to be expert knowledge from which we can learn what their lives are actually like, and how to craft better theories and better policies. Academics are wonderful critics but terrible storytellers (Marris 1990; Sandercock 2004), and thus, it can be very effective for people to hear directly from respondents. Such accounts help to interrupt the power dynamic that happens when the poor are asked to talk about what they do; rather than explaining why, they can teach us how. Through research that includes narrative interviews, low-income families can be considered experts on their own lives, not objects of praise, pity, or judgment.
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Recent debates in the field have questioned the utility of interviews, focusing on what Jerolmack and Khan (2014) call the “attitudinal fallacy.” Jerolmack and Khan argue that it is dangerous to rely on what people say as a measure of what they do, and that the direct observation that ethnography provides is a better approach for understanding behavior. In our opinion, talk is never “cheap,” though, of course, you cannot always take it at face value as a substitute for behavior.8 But as we argue in more detail elsewhere, there is also the risk of an “observational fallacy”—when we only watch
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