A new economic approach


by Howard J. Grossman, AICP

It has been some time since there have been new approaches to looking at the economy. One such venture has been developed by Professor Raj Chetty, currently at Harvard University and the inventor of Opportunity Insights.

As a recent article in Atlantic magazine posed, he wants to not only understand America but he wants to change America itself. His Harvard adventure is aimed at applying his findings in cities around the nation and demonstrating that social scientists are able to fix the problems they articulate in journals. Partnerships are being developed in such locations as Charlotte, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis and other communities. In some sense, he wants to revive the American dream.

Why not geographic places such as Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Pottsville, Carbondale and even smaller communities such as Stroudsburg, Honesdale and others? If larger cities can be found and examined, then perhaps smaller communities can be rediscovered, using what Chetty has invented as a tool to focus on new ways to protect and extend approaches to the renaissance of urban centers or in our regional case, small urban settings that have resisted change in past attempts at improving such entities.

Chetty has put together data and information about urban communities and metropolitan areas. For example, one piece of data incudes a three-decade span linking children to the parents who claimed them as dependents, following poor kids from every census tract in this country, showing how much they earned as adults. Which factors foster opportunities and which impede it? How can steps be taken to dress these problems? Diagnosing weaknesses and describing a set of treatments would follow. He particularly looks at Charlotte, studying its history and the many difficult situations that faced that city and how changes have occurred for the better.

Opportunity Insights continues to look at how children have fared in moving from one area to another as well as how long the continuation pattern exists, and sometime that is a generation. The huge data source that Chetty has is an outstanding collection of information that can be researched in a variety of ways for a national picture to emerge, and that is what can be fostered in this region as a means to find a new pathway to economic growth in coming years.

Regional economic development that exists and that which is likely to occur can benefit from what Chetty has achieved, and here are some elements that can be helpful in this regard regionally.

■ Bring Chetty to this region and have him discuss and evaluate ways that his research tools can best be utilized for helping the regional economy.

■ Find out the data support system he utilizes in relation to this region and begin to analyze the informational progress that can best be organized to enhance economic development and apply the big-picture setting that he has created to this region.

■ Examine the young people in this region, using the techniques he has applied to see what trends have occurred and what avenues are best suited for improving the regional economy.

■ Use the Atlas that Chetty has to select better building sites for affordable housing in coming years and make sure they fit a housing policy that leverages the affordable housing goals for this region.

■ Identify high-opportunity places in the region, using the five qualities Chetty believes fit such as good schools, greater levels of social cohesion, many two-parent families, low levels of income inequality, and little residential segregation. These criteria can be used to generate ways to advance the Chetty model inside this region.

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