Historically, high housing costs have intersected with discriminatory market practices and exclusionary land-use policies to block low-income families and people of color from communities that offer safety, good schools, a healthy environment, and access to jobs. At the same time, many neighborhoods where housing is more affordable—and where poor people of color have been concentrated—have been the victims of disinvestment and neglect, leaving them with failing schools, inadequate services, physical and environmental blight, and high levels of crime and violence. Many people who could afford to move have fled from these communities, further raising their poverty rates and accelerating the cycle of disinvestment, powerlessness, and distress.
Today, economic segregation is on the rise across much of the United States, creating enclaves of low-income neighborhoods that lack the resources and amenities (as well as the political and market power) most middle- and high-income communities take for granted. Understanding the mechanisms through which neighborhood conditions can affect long-term social and economic outcomes for their residents is a crucial step in promoting mobility from poverty.
This memo summarizes the research evidence about four causal mechanisms through which conditions in distressed communities can undermine the long-term life-chances of their residents: the availability and quality of services, crime and violence, the role of peer groups and social networks, and access to employment opportunities.