For residents who remain poor, reducing poverty rates in their communities can still result in long-term health benefits.
PROBLEM: How much might their distressed surroundings affect the lives of the most desperately poor? A social experiment in the mid-90s called Moving to Opportunity relocated thousands of low-income families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York from public housing projects to lower-poverty areas in an attempt to answer this question. Disappointingly, they did not observe any increases in household income -- an apparent blow to the housing vouchers system. Might other improvements have emerged despite the lack of improvement in their economic situation?
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METHODOLOGY: Moving to Opportunity was a true experiment, in that it used a randomized lottery system to select the relocated families. This study revisits these subjects and looks at the long-term effects of moving on their physical and mental health and subjective well-being.
RESULTS: The voucher recipients who relocated live in neighborhoods with a 31.4 percent poverty rate. This is still unusually high, but it's a marked improvement from the living situations of the control group: in their neighborhoods, 39.6 percent of the residents are living in poverty.
Improvements in mental health were statistically significant, measured by a psychological distress index score for the preceding month, lifetime depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and amounts of normal sleep.