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The relationship between neighborhoods and well-being

The sun sets over the New York city skyline.

In the '90s, a federal program called "Moving to Opportunity" gave housing vouchers to very poor families in five of America's biggest cities. The idea was to move out of their present neighborhood, and presumably to somewhere better.

A new report in the journal Science tells us a few important things about how those families fared -- some of it's encouraging; some of it, not so much.

Over time, the study found, quality of life -- in terms of physical and mental health --  does improve when people are moved to these less poverty-striken neighborhoods. There was less evidence, however, that economic status really improved.

Robert Sampson is a sociologist at Harvard -- he has studied the "Moving to Opportunity" program himself, and wrote an accompanying article evaluating the report.

"The good news," says Sampson, "is that when we shift people out of extreme poverty, and we follow them over families did much better in mental health."

The bad news, though, is that "in terms of economic outcomes -- whether it might be income, employment, and so forth -- that didn't change."

 

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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