A Place of Opportunity

Research Directions on Low-Income Neighborhoods and Fostering Economic Mobility


A growing body of evidence suggests that neighborhoods matter for low-income people’s life trajectories, and extensive federal and foundation resources have been devoted to so-called “place-based” strategies to help individuals by addressing the communities where they live. In general, two strategies have emerged in the field: (1) attempts to help people living in settings of concentrated poverty move to areas of economic opportunity and (2) efforts to improve or preserve neighborhoods for current and future residents who have low incomes.

The importance of place has been reinforced by recent experimental findings that show that when families were offered the chance to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods through the federal housing voucher program, children who were 12 or younger when they moved ultimately had higher incomes and college attainment. These reanalyses of the Moving to Opportunity experiment have given new urgency to policies that promote integration, fair housing, and neighborhood mobility as an option for low-income families. At the same time, there is growing consensus that encouraging low-income families to move to higher-income neighborhoods cannot be the only policy response; rather, there must be complementary and interconnected strategies to improve neighborhoods for low-income residents and to increase their mobility.

This brief summarizes major recent findings on poverty and place, describes how MDRC is building a body of evidence to inform place-based strategies to address poverty, and suggests some future directions for the field.