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Bullets Don't Got No Name: Consequences of Fear in the Ghetto

Jeffrey Kling, Jeffrey Liebman () and Lawrence Katz ()

JCPR Working Papers from Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research

Abstract: To understand the impact of high-poverty neighborhoods on families, we collected data from participants at the Boston site of HUD's Moving To Opportunity (MTO) demonstration. MTO randomly assigned housing vouchers to applicants living in high-poverty public housing projects. The vouchers allowed families to move to private apartments, typically in lower-poverty neighborhoods. This paper reports the results of our qualitative fieldwork which included observation of the operation of MTO in Boston and in-depth interviews with participants. This qualitative work had a profound impact on our MTO research. First, it caused us to refocus our quantitative data collection on a substantially different set of outcomes, primarily in the domains of safety and health. In our subsequent quantitative work, we found the largest program effects in the domains suggested by the qualitative interviews. Second, our qualitative work led us to develop an overall conceptual framework for thinking about the impacts of high-poverty neighborhoods on families and the ways in which moves to lower poverty neighborhoods might affect these families. We observed that fear of random violence appears to cause parents in ghetto families to focus a substantial portion of their daily routine on keeping their children safe. In later quantitative research, we confirmed that parental monitoring intensity was reduced among families offered housing vouchers. We further hypothesized that the need to live life on the watch may have broad implications for the future prospects of these families – including potential impacts on children's development and on the mothers' ability to engage in activities that would lead them to become economically self-sufficient, although sufficient data to assess this hypothesis are not yet available. Third, our fieldwork gave us a deeper understanding of the institutional details of the MTO program. This understanding has helped us to make judgements concerning the external validity of our MTO findings, and has prevented us from making some significant errors in interpreting our quantitative results. Fourth, by listening to MTO families talk about their lives, we learned a series of lessons that have important implications for housing policy. For many of the things we learned, it is hard to imagine any other data collection strategy that would have led us to these insights.

Date: 2001-04-16
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