The most well-known previous research on a neighborhood’s ability to influence the economic outcomes of its residents was based on data from a social experiment called Moving to Opportunity (MTO). MTO families would join the program to receive a chance to leave project-based public housing using housing vouchers that subsidized their rent at a new location. The data recorded would compare families who entered the program and failed to win a voucher to those who entered and received a voucher. Families who lacked motivation to enter this voluntary experiment were not included, and researchers could not learn about the effects of moving using vouchers for these households, until now.

Eric Chyn’s research focuses on the forced relocation of families in 1990’s Chicago due to the demolition of many public housing projects in his paper, Moved to Opportunity: The Long-Run Effect of Public Housing Demolition on Labor Market Outcomes of Children. “I began this research to learn more about the determinants of poverty and the effectiveness of social programs,” says Eric.

“My study exploits a unique natural experiment based on public housing demolitions in Chicago which forced households to relocate to private market housing using vouchers.” This data takes choice and the parents motivation out of the equation because their homes were being destroyed, leaving them with no other option than to relocate. Instead of comparing winners and losers in an experiment, Eric compared relocated families whose buildings were destroyed, to those whose building were not selected for demolition. “Displaced children are 9 percent more likely to be employed and earn 16 percent more as adults. These results contrast with previous studies that detected effects only for children who were young when their families moved. These striking results add to a body of evidence suggesting that the positive impact of moving people to better neighborhoods has been underestimated,” explains Eric.

This research was not conducted to undermine the positive effects of those that voluntarily sign up for lotteries that provide housing vouchers. It simply brings attention to the fact that those who choose not sign up for them are losing benefits in terms of their children’s outcomes.

Eric Chyn is a sixth year Ph.D. candidate and recipient of a NICHD Training Fellowship at the Population Studies Center (PSC) at the Institute for Social Research at UM. His main research fields are labor and public economics. Eric will be submitting his completed dissertation later this year, and, will be taking a position in the Department of Economics at the University of Virginia as an Assistant Professor. “My experience in the PhD program at UM has been amazing. My dissertation committee (especially my chair Martha Bailey) provided support and critical feedback that helped shape and improve my research. In addition, faculty who were not specifically on my committee provided extremely helpful comments. Finally, I received generous fellowship support and training from the Population Studies Center at the Institute for Social Research at UM.”

For more information on Eric’s work, visit his homepage!