"Which neighborhoods in America offer children the best chance to rise out of poverty?"

Take the time, if you can, to watch this whole episode of Matter of Fact or just the portion about Evanston. Soledad O'Brien explores, To Be An American: Identity, Race and Justice.

The Evanston portion is reported by Joie Chen, who grew up in Evanston. She looks at segregation/mapping in Evanston and talked to Shorefront Legacy Center's executive director Dino Robinson and to Harvard economist Raj Chetty who created the Opportunity Atlas, which answers the question, "Which neighborhoods in America offer children the best chance to rise out of poverty?"


The Atlas uses anonymous data following 20 million Americans from childhood to their mid-30s.


Here's a transcript:

JC: We all know what it means to be from the right side of the tracks, even when it's just the very edge of privilege. That's my story and my house. The house I grew up in was the very last house before the tracks. In the late 1960s, we were the only Asian family in the neighborhood. I thought we were the outliers, but the white kids the black kids in this integrated progressive enclave? Surely their opportunities were equal? I think we thought we were woke.

DR: Yeah, not the case.

JC: At the Shorefront Legacy Center, Dino Robinson documents the history of African Americans on Chicago's North Shore, particularly in our diverse suburb.

DR: So Evanston is great on paper, it looks diverse, but when you drive through Evanston, you can see a distinction between neighborhoods, and how they have been divided throughout its history. Joie: Those divisions are part of Evanston's origin story, an early version of the great migration. At the start of the 20th century.

DR: Our timeframe is about between 1910 and 1930, where you had a huge influx of Black families coming directly from specifically Abbeville, South Carolina, and that was due to a tragedy where a gentleman [Anthony Crawford] was lynched. So there was a mass exodus of Black families leaving that area of South Carolina to come north to Evanston.

JR: As a black population group so due to the efforts to contain it. African American families were pushed toward the west side of town. The 'other side' of the tracks. The pink area marked as D2 on this map where redlining systematically depressed real estate values, steered away investment, and stacked the financial deck against generations of Black of Evanstonians.

The Black kids I grew up with, particularly the Black boys--Did they have the same opportunity that I did?

DR: I would say no. The Black boys especially.

RC: When we looked at block after block across the US and we asked, is there any place where we can see Black kids having as good outcomes as white kids, and very discouraging finding was there's essentially no such place in America. In 99 percent of blocks in America, white kids, and white men in particular, have better outcomes than black men.

JC: And Raj Chetty has the data to prove it. His opportunity Atlas breaks down America block by block, and my hometown exactly captures the story of inequality in America.

RC: That's what I think is striking about it that you really see two very different pictures on two sides of the railroad track.

JC: often seen as a model of social engineering through education, Evanston has just one giant public high school, Evanston Township or ETHS, where enrollment reached nearly 6,000 In the early 1970s, with the same academics and activities promised to all. And yet, the numbers don't lie.

RC: That's exactly right. The numbers don't lie. there unfortunately I mean I think the truth is, we may perceive that people are having similar experiences, we may perceive that they're integrated, but when you're looking at how kids are doing 10 years, 20 years after graduating from high school, their life trajectories look very different, by race and ethnicity. That's just a fact.

JC: But that's not the whole story, Chetty says. Friends, mentors, social networks all play a role, as does that age old question. Where are you from?

RC: So what we've learned is where you grow up, really matters for your chances of achieving the American dream. So, basically where you live from birth to say your early 20s seems to matter a great deal and every extra year that you grow up in a better neighborhood, a neighborhood with better schools, better access to opportunities, the better you end up doing in the long run.

JC: So depending on your childhood address, the journey to that American dream may be shorter and easier to travel.

DR: My first thought would not be where you from? As far as I know, you grew up in Evanston, you're an Evanstonian.

JC: Even when it's a little house, just on the right side of the tracks.

81 views1 comment