Monday, September 24, 2012

Housing subsidy families happier instead of richer

Back in the 1990s the U.S. began a housing subsidy program for poor families. It gave poor families a chance to move out of slums and into nicer neighboorhoods. The hope was that the families would be given all of the economic opportunities easily found in richer areas. The theory didn't work to well, but it did impove one thing for the poor, it made them happier.

From the New York Times, writer Sabrina Tavernise looks into the surprising results of the housing subsidy program.
What researchers did find were substantial improvements in the physical and mental health of the people who moved. Researchers reported last year in The New England Journal of Medicine that the participants who moved to new neighborhoods had lower rates of obesity and diabetes than those not offered the chance to move. Beyond the increase in happiness, the new study found lower levels of depression among those who moved.
“Mental health and subjective well-being are very important,” said William Julius Wilson, a sociology professor at Harvard whose 1987 book “The Truly Disadvantaged” pioneered theory about concentrated poverty. “If you are not feeling well, it’s going to affect everything — your employment, relations with your family.”
The researchers measured quality of life using participants’ reports of their own well-being. Researchers asked: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days? Would you say you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?”
A year after they entered the program, the families who had made the move were living in neighborhoods where about a third of the residents lived in poverty. In contrast, those who were not offered the chance to move lived in neighborhoods where half of the residents lived in poverty.
Professor Wilson said it was not surprising that education levels did not change significantly because many of the children who moved remained in the same school districts. And Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard and one of the study authors, said that the preference for educated workers was so strong that changing neighborhoods did not do much to improve job options for the participants, who were mostly African-American women without college educations.

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