The Geography of Inequity

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We have long known--as scholars and just observers--that many of an individual's life outcomes depend significantly on where one is located. Educational quality, in particular, varies dramatically among different jurisdictions, a fact that drives economically-advantaged households to use their resources to secure superior opportunities for their children. Access to financial institutions, likelihood of being a victim of crime, costs of essential goods, and availability of critical public infrastructure also differ depending on one's zip code, even controlling for a household's own financial standing.

Research by Tom Shapiro and his colleagues at The Institute on Assets and Social Policy has revealed new insights about the role of place in determing one's fortunes. Recently, new analytical tools have improved the sophistication of the data from which we draw these conclusions, and, then, point to policy solutions to remedy these inequities. PolicyLink's National Equity Atlas is a preeminent example of this kind of tool, using data to make the case for broadly inclusive strategies for economic growth, and equipping local advocates and policymakers with evidence with which to argue these points. The Woodstock Institute created an interactive map to illustrate Illinois' geographic divides. And others are joining this critical conversation about how devolution may coincide with increases in inequality.

Neighborhood initiatives can make a real difference in individual well-being, suggesting--from our perspective--a role for local Children's Savings Account interventions in economic development approaches. Housing and infrastructure and job opportunities aren't the only dimensions of prosperity that are disparately distributed across the United States, though; tuition fees and meaningful access to higher education depends largely on where one lives, as well. Institutions in certain parts of the country offer very different financial aid packages to low-income students, compounding these inequities and resulting, then, in distinct geographic patterns of student debt.

While we are encouraged by local initiatives like the City of Boston's emphasis on financial empowerment and, of course, San Francisco's Kindergarten to College, we believe that our growing awareness of the landscape of inequity should galvanize a commitment to national wealth-building interventions. Every child in America needs a CSA, and only national policy can deliver that. We can redraw the maps of opportunity in America, starting with accounts for all.

 
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New Book Released

Today’s student loan system is in place because of a political compromise, and growing discontent with student debt may signal that this arrangement has run its course. While there are resources and organizations in place to help those struggling with debt, the time has come to consider a new direction for financial aid, William Elliott III and Melinda Lewis argue in “Student Debt: A Reference Handbook.”

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