From the Washington Post:
The one thing rich parents do for their kids that makes all the difference
By Emily Badger May 10 at 6:30 AM
Wealthy parents are famously pouring more and more into their children, widening the gap in who has access to piano lessons and math tutors and French language camp. The biggest investment the rich can make in their kids, though — one with equally profound consequences for the poor — has less to do with “enrichment” than real estate.
They can buy their children pricey homes in nice neighborhoods with good school districts.
Like I’ve said once or twice, the worst problem with being poor in today’s America is not that you can’t afford to buy enough food, it’s that you can’t afford to get away from other poor people.
“Forty to fifty years of social-science research tells us what an important context neighborhoods are, so buying a neighborhood is probably one of the most important things you can do for your kid,” says Ann Owens, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. “There’s mixed evidence on whether buying all this other stuff matters, to0. But buying a neighborhood basically provides huge advantages.”
I pointed this out in my 2003 review of Elizabeth Warren’s book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke. I quoted Warren and her daughter writing:
“The average two-income family earns far more today than did the single-breadwinner family of a generation ago. And yet, once they have paid the mortgage, the car payments, the taxes, the health insurance, and the day-care bills, today`s dual-income families have less discretionary—and less money to put away for a rainy day—than the single-income family of a generation ago.”
The two authors note:
“The brunt of the price increases has fallen on families with children. Data from the Federal Reserve show that the median home value for the average childless individual increased by 23 percent between 1983 and 1998 … (adjusted for inflation). For married couples with children, however, housing prices shot up 79 percent—more than three times faster.” …
Warren and Tyagi made an impressive survey of 2200 families that declared bankruptcy. “Our study showed that married couples with children are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as their childless counterparts,” they write. This will come as no surprise to married couples with children. Even more striking: “This year more people will declare themselves bankrupt than will suffer a heart attack.”
The biggest single cause of this growing financial stress on middle-income parents: the breakdown of much of the public education system. As Warren and Tyagi note,
“Even as millions of mothers marched into the workforce, savings declined, and not, as we will show, because families were frittering away their paychecks on toys for themselves or their children. Instead, families were swept up in a bidding war, competing furiously with one another for their most important possession: a house in a decent school district… ”
Back to the WaPo in 2016:
Owens’s latest research, published in the American Sociological Review, suggests that wealthy parents snapping up such homes have driven the rise of income segregation in America since 1990. The rich and non-rich are less and less likely to share the same neighborhoods in the United States, a trend shaped more by the behavior of the wealthy than the poor or middle class. Owens’s work, though, adds another twist: The recent rise of income segregation, she finds, is almost entirely caused by what’s happening among families with children.
Since 1990, income segregation hasn’t actually changed much among households without kids. That’s two-thirds of the population.
“Yes income segregation is rising,” Owens says, “but this is really a story about kids.”
Children aren’t evenly distributed across communities. You’re more likely to find them in, say, the suburbs of Fairfax County than in Chinatown in the District. So the environments they and their families occupy don’t necessarily reflect the experience of the typical American household. Along a number of divides, whether by race or poverty levels, children tend to live with more segregation than the population at large.
In her study, Owens looked at income segregation patterns across neighborhoods in the 100 largest metros in the United States. From 1990 to 2010, income segregation among families with children rose by about 20 percent. By 2010, income segregation was twice as high among families with children younger than 18 living at home as among households without them. That means that a typical childless household lives among more diverse neighbors from across the economic spectrum than does the typical family with children.
The nationwide phenomenon of rising income segregation is in effect the aggregate outcome of parents who can afford to [be] jockeying for position for their kids. And as income inequality has widened over this same time, the rich have more and more money to spend on the real estate arms race to get into wealthy neighborhoods, where everyone else is wealthy, too (and the same can be said of the local classrooms).
Owens’s research suggests that rising income inequality hasn’t translated into the same residential sorting effect for households without children. That’s perhaps because the childless rich — including so-called DINKs — are spending their greater wealth on other luxuries, such as expensive restaurants, travel and entertainment. Given that school quality is embedded in the high cost of housing in many communities (think Northwest Washington), it’s also logical that households without children would decline to pay a premium for an amenity they don’t plan to use.
Owens additionally argues that as wealthy parents are spending their added resources on housing, they’re choosing that housing with schools particularly in mind. In her data, there’s wider income segregation among families with children in “fragmented” metropolitan areas that have more school districts for parents to choose from, allowing greater sorting between low-quality and coveted districts.
This the comparison I make between L.A.’s two big suburbs, the San Fernando Valley (mostly LAUSD, except Burbank and Glendale) and the San Gabriel Valley (many school districts, with the Chinese picking out certain ones like Arcadia to boost into the stratosphere of prices).
… Owens’s work has a fascinating policy implication. Advocates of integrated schools — which researchers believe provide greater benefits for poorer and minority students — often argue that we should use housing policy to address deeply entrenched educational inequalities. Build more affordable housing in good school districts, or simply break down inclusionary housing policies there, and we’d create more integrated schools.
“We always think, well, we’re never going to have integrated schools as long as we have such highly segregated neighborhoods,” she says. “I want to point out maybe we’ll never have integrated neighborhoods if we have segregated schools.”
Nationally, of course, the massive problem is that we’re running out of white kids to use to uplift NAM kids.
If we found ways to integrate schools — as former District Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) controversially proposed two years ago — that might take some of the exclusivity out of certain neighborhoods. School quality is capitalized into housing prices, making those neighborhoods unaffordable to many families. Imagine, for instance, if all the public schools in the District or the Washington region were integrated and of comparable quality. Families might pay more to live in Northwest to be near Rock Creek Park. But you’d see fewer home-bidding wars there just to access scarce school quality. More to the point, homes families already paid handsomely to buy might lose some of their value.
Bret Schundler, a favorite of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, ran as the Republican candidate for governor of New Jersey in 2001 on this platform: vouchers for everybody! He did badly in the wealthy suburbs a Republican needs to win.
Most nice school districts figure they could take on a few more blacks, but there’s a huge danger of the process getting out of control and your school district, and thus your net worth, being wiped out by integration (e.g., the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago).
Here’s an idea for liberals to consider: you like racial quotas for everything else, why not racial quotas for schools? The legendary “black a block” quota furtively imposed on real estate agents is what saved Oak Park, IL from the fate of Austin next door.
So, impose maximum quotas for different races.
The problem is that liberals like to argue that racial quotas don’t violate the 14th Amendment because they are anti-white, while pro-white quotas would be unthinkable.
So liberal Oak Park had to save itself with a pro-white quota that it kept secret. But, everybody, including fans of Prairie Style architecture and Oak Park’s middle class residents, benefited from preventing white flight from Oak Park.
Of course, there isn’t much evidence that the kind of progressive education techniques that liberal white school districts like are good for blacks. Blacks seem to do best in KIPP-style boot camp schools with strict discipline and back to basic fundamentals. But not a lot of highly educated whites want to send their 1.6 children to KIPP charters.