In his recent New York Times op-ed, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks says declining mobility is a primary cause of the nation’s economic malaise. Among his suggestions, he writes that “we should reform place-based welfare programs to reduce the incentive to stay put. The social safety net should be designed to promote mobility and earned success, not to anchor people within struggling communities.” But in his simplistic paean to mobility he fails to acknowledge the devastating consequences often accompanying relocation.
Students who change schools underperform relative to similar classmates in similar schools whose school situation is more stable. Urban renewal and its progeny (e.g. many Hope VI projects) resulted in forced displacement undermining institutional connections, personal relationships, and other forms of social capital that nurtured prosperity in middle income minority neighborhoods and survival in poor ones. Gentrification perpetuates forced displacement and its many costs. In her book, Root Shock, Mindy Fullilove, professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University observes that such displacement “destroys social, emotional, and financial resources and increases the risk for every kind of stress-related disease, from depression to heart attack.”
For those who want to move, particularly from high poverty to high opportunity neighborhoods, public policy and private practice should encourage such relocations. But those who want to stay put should have that option as well.
(Photo credit: Carl Wycoff, via flickr, CC BY 2.0)