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10/7/2018 12:49:00 PM
U.S. Census project: Location influences outcome

Ron Shawgo, Journal Gazette

They are divided by a river and a railroad track, but Fort Wayne's near east-side neighborhoods are worlds apart when considering a child's chance at a good future.

As an adult, a child from a poor family that lived just south of the Maumee River off North Anthony Boulevard is expected to earn less than half that of a poor child living a mile north.

In the same two neighborhoods, 44 percent of girls from poor families south of the river gave birth between ages 13 and 19, while 26 percent did on the north side, where incarceration rates are also lower.

Where children grow up can affect their future, even if they come from families with similar incomes and living in nearby neighborhoods, according to a new project from the U.S. Census Bureau in collaboration with Raj Chetty and Nathan Hendren at Harvard University and John Friedman at Brown University.

Simply moving at birth to an above-average mobility neighborhood in the same county would increase a poor child's lifetime earnings by about $200,000, according to the study.

The data are contained in an online interactive map called the “Opportunity Atlas.” The project, at, uses data stripped of personal information on 20 million Americans born between 1978 and 1983. Those people, now in their mid-30s, were mapped back to the neighborhoods in which they grew up. Their average outcomes in adulthood, such as yearly earnings, were then calculated for each of those neighborhoods.

Individuals who moved several times as an adult are included in data for their childhood neighborhood, actual census tracts containing about 4,000 people each.

For example, children from low-income families living just south of the Maumee River had average household incomes of $19,000 as adults in 2015. North of the river, past Lake Avenue, the average was $40,000 for an adult with a similar upbringing.

It's not only rivers that divide. Take Calhoun Street from East Rudisill Boulevard south to East Paulding Road. Children from low-income families who lived in the census tract to the west of Calhoun had average incomes of $33,000 in 2015. For those on the east side, incomes averaged $24,000, according to the data.

Many Allen County children who grew up poor in rural areas have adult incomes that match those in Fort Wayne's suburbs to the north and northeast. And they are more likely to stay where they grew up. Two large rural tracts in the northeast corner of the county have the largest youth retention rates. Two of five children in the tract containing Harlan stayed as adults, while about one in three in the tract containing Woodburn remained. Countywide, only 18 percent of children stayed in the same tract.

The data come with a caution.

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