Yesterday I posted an NYT column by Nicholas Kristof praising Harvard-Stanford economist Raj Chetty’s latest experiment: moving single mother of 6 Jackie Rath, who claims to have been sexualy assaulted four times by age 16, and her brood to a nice suburb with average home prices over $460k. (I called it “Raj Chetty and the Rapes of Rath.”)
Because I’m just about the only pundit who has reflected skeptically on Chetty’s much hyped work over the last half dozen years, I was struck reading the most admired comments by New York Times readers on Kristof’s column. Interestingly, many of the NYT readers’ comments are slightly to the right of Kipling’s poem about “When the Saxon began to hate.” For example:
Wichita, KansasAug. 3
Yes, this sounds promising. But here’s the first step: Stop having so many Children that you can’t afford or support. There is absolutely no GOOD reason to have more than two children. This is not the 1800’s or even the 1950’s. The more kids, the less each individual one will get, and the less their chances for success. Success as defined by avoiding early pregnancy, attending and graduation from College, and fairly stable employment. For the record : We had one child. Only.
12 Replies 214 Recommend
Chicago Aug. 3
Sounds like a good idea, but it suffers from the same problem as the idea behind charter schools: Help the younger generation by allowing a few of them to “escape” their surroundings.
There shouldn’t BE neighborhoods with bad schools, few jobs, blighted housing, no parks, few community resources, and bad policing (too much, too little or just based on the wrong policies and hiring practices).
Decouple public schools and other public services from property taxes and other local taxes. The state and federal governments need to pick up the cost of supporting schools and neighborhoods. Don’t just fund neighborhoods equally–invest more resources and do pilot programs in areas that are struggling.
There are countries where all public schools are good schools. Why don’t we aim for that?
8 Replies 208 Recommend
Margaret Layman commented August 3
Seattle Aug. 3
I’m from Seattle. Not sure where the subject of this article moved from in the area, but her children are unlikely to escape much by moving to Renton.
Having six fatherless children presents a difficult to move to a better life no matter where you go. I hope the mother is being encouraged to concentrate on her current children and not more go nowhere relationships and more children.
1 Reply 174 Recommend
Bellingham WaAug. 3
Life is what you make it to some degree especially choosing to have children. I’m appalled by women who can barely take care of themselves financially and then have several children. I find it very irresponsible. Society needs to foster prevention of poverty by educating women against this kind of lifestyle instead of “feel good” programs in aftermath.
5 Replies 149 Recommend
Southern CaliforniaAug. 3
I long bought into the idea that geography was destiny. Then I moved from the US to London and witnessed geographical social engineering failing spectacularly and completely changed my mind. Council homes (government housing) are not confined to siloed projects – there are also many peppered throughout each borough, including “posh” and upmarket areas. What I saw was poverty and its ills continue to replicate itself in spite of being next door to “better” or more well-to-do neighbours. Teenage pregnancy, smoking, obesity, joblessness, antisocial behaviour, drug use (and dealing), littering, and bringing way too many children into the world was what I saw, next door to the lawyers and other professionals who made their way to work each day as we passed some in social housing order their McDonald’s breakfast via Deliveroo. It was shocking, appalling, and above all depressing. I had to let go of every idea I had ever had about how to deal with poverty, and admit that I had been wrong about it all. Bad culture, bad values, and bad behaviour replicate poverty. In spite of what these studies say, success does not rub off to neighbours or transmit itself through the ether. Change must come from within. I would challenge anyone who disagrees with me to spend a few years in central London and get back to me then. I hate that this is what I now think, but I cannot unsee or go back to how I saw the world before.
2 Replies 133 RecommendShareFlag …
West LafayetteAug. 4
“Rath, now 38, was the third generation in her family to endure a traumatized childhood that led to poverty, and now she is a single mom with six children of her own who might also be at risk.”
Lady Bracknell would say that to have one unplanned pregnancy may be regarded as misfortune, but that having six unplanned pregnancies looks like carelessness.
Connecticut Aug. 4
My husband works for a low income, urban school district.
a) all of these districts – at least in Connecticut – ALREADY get the majority of their funding from the state, NOT property taxes. It is not lack of funding that is hurting these schools. It is that they are full of students who don’t want to, or in many cases can’t, learn or fully function behaviorally in a classroom.
b) what makes neighborhoods and schools “good” or “bad” is the people living in them.
My husband grew up in a “ghetto” with immigrant parents who spoke no English and had almost no formal education. Within 10 years they had a house in the suburbs, purely from the fruit of their hard work at multiple jobs and savings. His parents stayed married. They were frugal and hardworking. They used birth control to only have two kids, both who grew up to earn graduate degrees and become professionals.
No matter where you live, if you make smart choices, you can find your way up. And no matter where you live, if you make bad choices – unwed parenthood, wasting money, not showing up regularly to work, cursing out your teachers, breaking the law – you are going to fail.
Putting people from bad neighborhoods in good ones does nothing to address the conditions that created the “bad” neighborhood to begin with.
We will not come close to dealing with poverty in this country until we can honestly acknowledge that there are serious cultural problems in many low income communities, both black and white.
1 Reply 113 Recommend …
Boca Raton, FlAug. 4
Well, I will probably be roundly attacked for this, but (and I am a life long liberal and Democrat), why does a poor woman of 38 years have 6 children? Too often when I read a story about poverty in the US, one (in my opinion) too frequent fact that shows up is women – sometimes still in the early or mid-20’s, with many children. Is it because they do not have access to good contraceptives or is it something else? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that especially in the child-unfriendly US, having lots of kids when you don’t also have lots of money is a fast track into poverty.
1 Reply 93 Recommend
Single mother with six kids and no money. The new neighbors must be overjoyed. I mean what could possibly go wrong?
Gulf Coast, TXAug. 4
If Ms. Rath was truly determined to break the cycle of poverty, she wouldn’t have had six illegitimate children.
The first step to a more financially secure and overall successful life for yourself and your children is to start by having fewer children.
Regardless of the neighborhood a person lives in, practicing responsible family planning will be the major factor in the quality of life for you and your children.
Having 6 children as a single parent or even as a married parent in this day and age is not responsible- even if you could afford to have so many children.
In future, I would opine that government programs for welfare and better housing need to be coupled with a limit to the number of children and free birth control.
You can have as many children as you want to- but don’t expect the taxpayers to subsidize them.
3 Replies 88 Recommend
Orlean, VirginiaAug. 4
Interesting – but not surprising – that Mr. Kristof fails to mention what other benefits Ms. Rath is receiving from the government. There is no mention of Ms. Rath having a job or receiving child support from any of the fathers of her children so I assume they are all on Medicaid, the SNAP program (food stamps), the WIC program, Section 8 housing payments to pay her rent, etc. etc. Judging by the photograph it seems one would need a car to live in Renton. Who is paying for that? Here’s wishing Ms. Rath well in this social engineering experiment but as a taxpayer footing her bill it would be nice to know how much that bill is annually.
‘And she thinks her move to a new neighborhood with a history of good outcomes will make all the difference for Amina and her other children.’
If her children’s fathers don’t show up and make trouble.
If she doesn’t go onto to more boyfriends and more babies.
If she assimilates the values of the high opportunity community.
If there is not a critical mass of people from similar backgrounds and circumstances who make staying in that culture comfortable in the high opportunity area.
And of course why would we ever talk about how these programs effect the people in high opportunity areas?
I wish her well but I don’t see how this is scalable even if it works on a limited basis. And that’s a big if.
In my time, I have seen many beautiful theories killed by ugly facts, so before we rush into another ill-thought-out solution, let’s hold the hallelujahs!
It all sounds so obvious. “Congress should move poor families to healthy neighborhoods.” Why didn’t I think of that?
But neighborhoods are not just physical structures — homes, schools and hospitals and so on. Neighborhoods are people. So when poor families move to “healthy” neighborhoods, effectively poor neighborhoods are moving to healthy neighborhoods. Success depends on the poor families assimilating to the “healthy” neighborhoods’ “white” middle class values. For that to happen, presumably the number of poor must families must be limited, or the newcomers will simply recreate the the dysfunctional neighborhoods they came from, resulting in “white flight” and the decline of healthy neighborhoods.
So even if the results hold up, there are likely to be limits to scaling up the experiments. We may run out of healthy neighborhoods to effect this transformation.
Even if there are some gains, there will never be enough. Expect complaints about the lack of diversity in the “healthy” neighborhood, lack of teachers who “look like” the children of the poor families, and so on. The cycle of racial name-calling will begin all over again. It will be even shriller if the strategy proves to be a failure. Count on Kristof to tell us that the failures are more evidence that whites just don’t get it.
Question: if this program “helps families move to neighborhoods with a proven record of helping kids do better”, who is left living in the neighborhoods with a proven record of not helping kids? Are those neighborhoods abandoned and then bulldozed?
So Jackie Rath is “determined to break the cycle of poverty” of which she is the third generation? Really?
Even though she has no less than six children with apparently no father around? Really?
Despite the fact that she had the last child at age 35-36, Mr. Kristof expects me to believe Ms. Rath sincerely desires to make life better for herself and her children.
Mr. Kristof is a warm and compassionate soul who need not be taken seriously.
All Over The U.S.Aug. 4
Left unsaid is the inescapable fact that some cultures may be toxic. And that to do well in this world people need to escape, and not embrace, those cultures.
For as is also unsaid, nobody from those “high-opportunity” neighborhoods wants to move to Rath’s old neighborhood.
These experiments are a good use of public funds. But they have a fatal flaw: at what point, with how many families moving to “high opportunity” neighborhoods, does the toxic culture muscle out the effective one?
These programs can also be accused of being racist, because also left unsaid in this article is that Rath moved from a black neighborhood to a white one.
But unless we can acknowledge these “unsaid” things, we will continually be dancing around the problem instead of confronting it and giving all children, black and white, the best start. Some cultures do that. Some don’t.
1 Reply66 Recommend
The woman mentioned here has six children. Six! Who can afford to raise and educate six children these days? No one but those very, very well to do. But here people bring children into this world without being able to take care of them. To expect society to pay for the care of these children. Mind you, children remember how they were brought up. It has become part of their live, one that they will always remember.
Yes, you can put people into a better area but unless they are willing to change things themselves, a better address alone won’t be the answer.
1 Reply 66 Recommend
The impoverished woman chose to have eight children and is then rewarded with an uptown address for herself and her brood. This is about stupidity more than anything else. It does not consider the brutal nuisance of having them section 8-ed next door. I sound like a Republican monster, but I’m left of Bernie. So why does this story bother me so?
El Dorado, CaliforniaAug. 3
Even granting the accuracy of the statistics, the gains seem so meagre balanced against the slow-but-sure destruction of a previously functioning neighborhood full of blameless people.
1 Reply 62 Recommend