Gateways to Opportunity? Neighborhood Trajectories of Massachusetts Residents
The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in high-poverty neighborhoods makes visible what researchers have long known: high-poverty neighborhoods suffer disproportionate rates of adverse health, social, and economic outcomes. Policymakers in Massachusetts have directed funding to improve economic conditions in the “gateway cities,” so named because of their potential to act as gateways to economic opportunity for their disproportionately low-income and immigrant residents. While the goal of such policies is to improve economic conditions within the gateway cities, it is also possible that these policies increased the chances that households exit high-poverty neighborhoods. Thus, part of understanding the gateway cities’ role as rungs on the opportunity ladder requires understanding how residents’ exposures to neighborhood poverty change when they move. This study examines the relationship between residential moves and concentrated poverty for residents of the gateway cities in comparison with residents of Boston and elsewhere in Massachusetts from 2000 to 2016. We found that in all communities, most residents that moved out of high-poverty neighborhoods moved to lower-poverty neighborhoods. However, probability that a person leaving a high-poverty neighborhood would move to a lower-poverty neighborhood was significantly lower when departing a gateway city than when departing a high-poverty neighborhood in Boston or elsewhere in Massachusetts. Also, moves out of poverty that began in gateway cities were significantly less long lasting than such moves that began elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Our results highlight a need for further research to uncover the factors that underlie the place-based differences we observed in long-term neighborhood outcomes. Moreover, as cities invest in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects, we offer a method for researchers seeking to examine the outcomes not just of the people who continue to reside in gateway cities but also of people who were residents during critical intervention periods.