Change in Housing Seen Improving Prospects for Poor Youths

By Mark Pitsch — October 23, 1991 3 min read

Low-income minority youths who moved to better housing in suburban areas through a court-ordered program did better in school, were more likely to attend a four-year college, and obtained better jobs than their counterparts who relocated to city apartments, a recent study has found.

“These findings have important implications for policy,” concludes the study, the latest conducted by Northwestern University researchers on participants in a special housing-desegregation program. “They show that socioeconomic and racial desegregation is possible.”

“In education, the youth benefit from being in areas where the educational standards are higher,” the study contends. “The long-term implication is that more of these youth will receive better education and continue with it in programs leading to better opportunities than if they had stayed in the city.”

The study, conducted in 1989-90, is the third in a series by Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research on participants in Chicago’s Gautreaux housing program.

Earlier studies showed that students who moved to the suburbs under the program fared well educationally and socially in elementary and secondary schools, and that adult-female participants in the suburbs were more likely to be employed than their counterparts in the city.

The program, which resulted from a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court consent decree, allows public-housing tenants to obtain federal “Section 8" rent-subsidy certificates and use them to move into apartments either in the mostly white suburbs or elsewhere in Chicago.

More than 4,000 families have relocated as a result of the program. Participants typically have been low-income, single-parent black women under age 35, with children.

School, Job Gains Seen

Contrary to the expectations of the researchers, the study found, “compared with city movers, suburban movers are more likely to be in high school, in a college high-school track, in a four-year college, in a job, in a job with job benefits, and not outside of the education and employment systems.”

The study noted that the grades of suburban and city youths participating in the study did not differ greatly, despite suburban students’ higher scores on high-school-reading and college-admissions tests.

Those results, the report says, “could be interpreted as indicating that the suburban children’s grades are worth more in achievement terms.”

The study’s authors, James E. Rosenbaum, a professor of sociology, education, and social policy at Northwestern, and Julie E. Kaufman, a research fellow at the urban-affairs center, suggested that the students who moved to the suburbs may have benefited from higher educational standards, higher achievement levels, and all-around higher expectations at those schools.

The researchers also noted that the Gautreaux program differs from most school-desegregation programs, which involve student busing.

“Gautreaux creates both residential and school integration, and it does so with little visibility, thus reducing backlash and stigma,” the study says. “Children arrived in the suburban schools as community residents, not as part of a busing program from a city every day. Moreover, residential integration provided the possibility for social integration of old and new residents.”

Lower Dropout Rate

The study also found that:

  • The high-school dropout rate among suburban students studied, 5 percent, was substantially lower than that for city students, 20 percent.
  • Among suburban students, 40.3 percent were taking college-preparatory courses, compared with 23.5 percent of the city students.
  • Of those of college age, 54 percent of the suburban students were enrolled in college, and nearly one-half of those in college were enrolled in a four-year institution. But only 21 percent of the city students were in college, of whom 20 percent attended a four-year school.
  • Three out of four suburban students were employed, while 41.4 percent of the city students had jobs.

A version of this article appeared in the October 23, 1991 edition of Education Week as Change in Housing Seen Improving Prospects for Poor Youths