When Where You Live Keeps You Down

Published may. 25, 2016

By Marty Alvarado and Lucretia Murphy

Nineteen-year-old Jadareous Davis was about to graduate from high school and enter adulthood with little family support, outstanding debt, and few prospects for a job that provides a living wage. As the Washington Post story shows, Mississippi students like Jadareous are too often faced with crippling intergenerational poverty simply because of where they live. The Deep South offers the bleakest landscape for its youth, especially for African-American males. Mississippi, specifically, has the lowest median income in the nation and a poverty rate nearly three times the national average.

Fortunately, there’s been increased awareness and interest about the impact of where you live on your economic prospects. Recent studies document that the place where people live can actually make immobility more likely than mobility. This new research is a strong affirmation of the work that Jobs for the Future has been involved in for years.

JFF and our many partner organizations have seen our work help people, young people like Jadareous, make it out of poverty, but we’re also seeing disturbing trends. The rates of poverty are increasing, as is the concentration of poverty in many places. The number of people who get stuck, especially for people of color, exceeds the number of those who “move on up;” and where they live is part of what keeps them down. Because it’s not just about Jadareous; it’s also about Mississippi. Place matters, and it matters big time.

The relationship between place and immobility is complex. There is no single cause, so there is no single or simple solution. It’s not a challenge that any one organization can solve on its own. So, JFF is hosting a national conversation on this and related issues at our Voices for Opportunity and Economic Mobility Summit, June 28-29 in New Orleans. This meeting will bring together youth and adults, intermediaries, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to build a collective understanding of what works to further economic mobility for all, regardless of place.

JFF has made a commitment to place-based initiatives like Pathways to Prosperity and Linked Learning Hubs of Excellence and removing barriers to mobility for adult learners and young people. There is more to do and more to learn.

We invite you to join the conversation at our national conference and learn about promising regional efforts. Through sessions like “Place Matters” and “New Orleans: Creating Neighborhoods of Opportunity,” practitioners, community organizers, and policymakers will share successes, failures, and lessons learned about making a change in people’s lives by making change in the places where they live.

Photo courtesy Vincenzo Di Giorgi