Does Gentrification Displace Poor Children? New Evidence from New York City Medicaid Data

Principal Investigator
NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Overview

In the last few decades, gentrification has grown increasingly common in cities across the country. Observers of these trends worry about the consequences of potential displacement, but the lack of large, longitudinal datasets has limited the field’s ability to draw firm conclusions about short- and long-term outcomes of these shifts. To address this gap, Kacie Dragan, Ingrid Ellen, and Sherry A. Glied, representing P4A’s NYU Wagner Research Hub, released a working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research offering new evidence about the consequences of gentrification on mobility, building and neighborhood conditions.

Findings

Using New York State’s Medicaid claims database, containing data for millions of enrollees, the team tracked the residential movements of a cohort of low-income, New York City children born between 2006 and 2008 over a period of seven years. They compared children starting out in neighborhoods that gentrified between 2009 and 2015 with children starting out in neighborhoods that looked very similar at baseline but remained low income. In most analyses, the team excluded subsidized families, focusing on those most vulnerable to displacement.

  • Low-income children who start out in neighborhoods that gentrify are no more likely to move than those who start out in non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
  • When families do move, they move further from gentrifying neighborhoods than from persistently low-income areas. Movers from gentrifying neighborhoods end up in areas with similar poverty rates (but lower levels of crime) as those who move from low-income neighborhoods.
  • The average low-income child who starts out in areas that later gentrify experiences a reduction in neighborhood poverty, mainly because the majority do not move as neighborhood income rises around them.
  • Children who move from gentrifying neighborhoods may see lesser gains in building conditions, as measured by serious building code violations.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Despite the media hype, this research reveals scant evidence that gentrification is associated with elevated displacement of low-income families, and those who do move are not moving to worse neighborhoods as measured by poverty rate or crime. Digging deeper, the data show that low-income children in New York City experience high mobility rates during their early childhood years regardless of whether their neighborhood is experiencing gentrification. Indeed, only white children and children in subsidized housing see mobility rates below 40 percent over the seven-year period. Gentrification is not the culprit; forced moves happen in all types of neighborhoods. Yet as the literature confirms a number of poor outcomes associated with housing instability, we may need to look to policy levers to decrease the “uprooting” that many low-income families—no matter where they’re located—experience.

Published
in
National Bureau of Economic Research