We knew Snohomish County was a good place to raise kids. Now we have a study by two Harvard economists that confirms it’s also a good place to give kids, particularly those from low-income families, hope for upward mobility.
As reported by the New York Times and National Public Radio this week, the study by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren and their Equality of Opportunity Project, looked at counties across the U.S. Using earnings records, with names redacted, of millions of families that moved from one area to another, the economists measured the income mobility of children, finding that some counties provided better odds for children to improve their economic outcome as adults.
One of the top counties was Snohomish County, performing better than 88 percent of all counties in the U.S., even better than our neighbor to the south, King County. Of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., it ranked second on the study’s list, behind only Dupage County, Illinois, west of Chicago.
It’s not surprising — and equally sobering when recent events are considered — to note that the city on the bottom of the list of 100 counties, where children actually lose significant ground, is Baltimore, Maryland.
Using future income as its measurement, the study found a child from a lower-income family in Snohomish County can expect to earn $3,740 more each year as a young adult than the national average. Lower-income boys would earn $3,410 more a year; girls would earn $4,050 more. In fact, most kids in Snohomish County can, on average, expect to benefit from living here. Average income kids would earn $2,450 more than the average, better than 79 percent of the rest of the nation. Kids from upper-income families in Snohomish County were at 49 percent of average, showing no real advantage or disadvantage to living here. The study also found that what Chetty and Hendren called the “childhood exposure effect” of living in a better environment also effected outcomes such as college attendance and the incidence of teen pregnancy.
The study credited five factors with influencing income mobility for children: less segregation by income and race among neighborhoods, lower levels of income inequality, good schools, lower rates of violent crime and a larger percentage of two-parent households. Sound like any county you’re familiar with?
The study also noted Snohomish County’s relatively inexpensive housing costs, in contrast to the county at the top, Dupage, Illinois, where housing costs are among the highest in its region.
The authors, Chetty and Hendren, said that among the conclusions of the study is that efforts to improve childhood environments and thus social mobility are best addressed at a local level.
It’s not difficult to find examples of local efforts that fit that profile.
Thirty-eight schools in 12 of the county’s 15 school districts recently were honored in the state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s annual Washington Achievement Awards, based on academic records over the past three years.
Community support of children also must be seen as a factor for success. That the YMCA of Snohomish County raised a record $1.36 million in its recently concluded annual campaign speaks to the community’s support for the organization but also of the good that YMCA does in our county for children, teens and families.
Continued support for the YMCA and similar organizations, for our schools and for state and local policies that promote strong neighborhoods, families, diversity and income equality will help keep Snohomish County a great place to give any child the best shot at a good future.