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Study: Los Angeles Keeps Poor Kids Poor Their Whole Lives

Los Angeles County is a pretty bad place to be a child in a low-income family, according to a new study by two Harvard economists. Low-income kids who grow up in LA are likely to make even less money as adults than low-income kids growing up in neighboring Ventura or Kern Counties, says the New York Times, discussing the new findings by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, who "have long been known for their work on income mobility." With this latest report, "the researchers are no longer confined to talking about which counties merely correlate well with income mobility; new data suggests some places actually cause it." And Los Angeles seems to be one of those places causing it.

Ventura County is just an hour or two up the coast, but it's lightyears ahead of Los Angeles in terms of income mobility. Researchers found that every year a poor child lives in Ventura County instead of the "average American county" adds $100 to their annual household income once they're 26. If a kid lives their entire childhood (here, 20 years) in Ventura County, their annual household income will be about $1,900 above average when they're 26. The younger a child is when they move to Ventura County the more likely they are to go to college and earn more, and the less likely they are to become a single parent.

On the other hand, kids growing up in LA County will live in households that make $2,780 less than average when they're 26 years old. LA County is one of the nation's worst for helping poor kids move upward, better than only 7 percent of the the nearly 2,500 counties surveyed. LA County's effects are more dire for poor boys; they'll be part of households that make $3,180 less than average annually when they're 26. (Poor girls will be members of households that make $2,200 less than average when they're 26.) There isn't much upward mobility for kids from families with average incomes, rich kids, or children of the top one percent in LA County, either, but the differences were most pronounced for poor children.

Chetty and Hendren found five factors related to high upward mobility, which help explain why LA County is so terrible for low-income kids. They were: better schools, "less segregation by income and race" (LA is highly segregated by income), lower violent crime rates, "a larger share of two-parent households," and lower income inequality (LA is a deeply unequal place compared to the rest of the state and the nation). "The broader lesson of our analysis is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level," the two researchers say in their report on the research.

· The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up: How Your Area Compares [NYT]
· Mapping How LA's Rich Decide Where Everyone Else Lives [Curbed LA]
· Los Angeles is the Most Unequal Place in California [Curbed LA]
· Los Angeles is the Ninth Least Equal Place in the US [Curbed LA]