Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This atlas doesn't make us shrug

Kingsport, Tennessee's census tract 47163040200, outlined
in black, has income, incarceration and other statistics that
contrast starkly with neighboring tract
 47163041500 (dark blue).
Welcome to census tract 47163040200, Kingsport, Tennessee. People in their mid-30s who grew up here have an average household income of $29,000. In April 2010, the incarceration rate for 30-something males who had been born in this census tract was 9.4 percent (1 percent margin of error). For black males – the tract was 31 percent non-white in 2010 – that rate was 15 percent, with a 4 percent margin of error. Most importantly, for purposes of the Census Bureau’s recently released “Opportunity Atlas,” and as it relates to Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union’s mission, 64 percent of the tract’s natives now in their mid-30s still live in Kingsport – and their average household income was $24,000 in 2015.

The numbers are starkly different for those who grew up just to the west in tract 47163041500. Average household income for them was $62,000 in 2015. Male incarceration rate for those folks in 2010 was 1 percent. Of the 41 percent who stayed in Kingsport, 2015 household income averaged $41,000. The neighborhood’s 2006-2010 poverty rate was 1.4 percent and it was 5.2 percent non-white in 2010.

30-somethings from tract  47163041500 have above-average incomes,
miniscule incarceration rates and high employment levels.
The Census Bureau released the atlas Oct. 1. The missions of ACFCU and other Community Development Financial Institutions – to serve and empower economically distressed communities – couldn’t be more relevant in light of this interesting new release.

As National Public Radio reported the same day, the atlas, a robust online data tool, “finds a strong correlation between where people are raised and their chances of achieving the American dream.” The data, crunched, analyzed and packaged with the help of Harvard’s Raj Chetty and Nathan Hendren as well as Brown University’s John Friedman (Chetty and partners blog about their research methods and findings on this census bureau blog site), comes from more than 20 million Americans who are in their mid-30s today. Stripped of personal information, it uses census bureau and IRS data to estimate average earnings, incarceration rates and many other outcomes. The data are linked to the tracts the subjects were children in, even if they don’t live in them now.

Natives of the "tract across the tracks" 47163040200, has average
 incomes less than half those of their childhood near-neighbors.
According to NPR’s piece, “Chetty found that if a person moves out of a neighborhood with worse prospects into a neighborhood with better outlooks, that move increases lifetime earnings for low-income children by an average $200,000.” As the NPR piece notes, though, “moving a lot of people is impractical, so researchers are instead trying to help low-performing areas improve.”

We see some stark contrasts in our Tri-Cities, Tennessee service area, as the introduction to this post reveals. ACFCU and its partners strive to provide opportunity within neighborhoods, not just shrug and think, “if people have enough desire, they’ll move to somewhere with better opportunities.”

Another good piece from the census bureau on the atlas’s findings suggests the takeaway shouldn’t be that moving is the best way to increase upward mobility. Anyway, that’s not always an option. Instead, the lesson should be “that the low rates of upward mobility in some areas can be changed.”

While policymakers consider the implications of this data and local and state governments mount their own efforts to address these types of findings, ACFCU will provide financial coaching and fair lending products to help people whom other institutions often overlook. It will continue pursuing innovative new, partnership-dependent affordable homeownership opportunities so more families can achieve the American dream of homeownership. It will continue partnering with Tusculum University and others to maximize opportunity so underserved people can access free VITA tax preparation, and will encourage them to leverage their refunds to get out of debt, build savings and work toward increasing their credit scores. And we hope someday, thanks to everyone working together, staying home in census tract 47163040200 won’t equal a ticket to lower opportunity.


(Jeff Keeling is vice president of communications and community relations for Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union.)





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