Oops! Was Section 8 a giant mistake?

Thomas Lifson
One of the pillars of liberal social engineering is the belief that subsidies permitting poor people to move into nicer neighborhoods helps improve their life prospects. The multi-billion dollar Section 8 rent voucher program is premised on this notion, providing taxpayer funding for poor people to rent apartments in buildings and neighborhoods that house wealthier people. Many localities also require developers to provide a certain number of below-market rental units for poor people as a condition for approving new rental housing construction. A huge amount of money is being poured into projects promoting the integration of poor people into middle class neighborhoods.

But a new large study funded by the federal government (who else?) has discovered that moving poor boys into richer neighborhoods is so disruptive that its effects are like those of PTSD. Sarah Sloat in The New Republic:

According to the study authors, led by Harvard professor Ronald Kessler, boys who move into more affluent neighborhoods report higher rates of depression and conduct disorder than their female peers. (snip)

Kessler’s study was conducted using data from Moving to Opportunity (MTO), a decades-spanning housing mobility experiment financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Within this project, 4,604 volunteer families with 3,689 children were randomly divided into three groups. Two of them received different versions of rent-subsidy vouchers that enabled them to move into a better neighborhood. A control group did not move.

In follow-up interviews conducted 10 to 15 years later, boys reported higher proportions of major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and conduct disorder than boys within the control group—rates of PTSD comparable to those of combat soldiers. The opposite occurred with girls, who reported mental health that was substantially better than the girls who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods.

But wait a minute! We have been told ever since Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that required racial integration in schools, that social science confirmed that separation was psychologically harmful:

When the cases came before the Supreme Court in 1952, the Court consolidated all five cases under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. [Thurgood] Marshall personally argued the case before the Court. Although he raised a variety of legal issues on appeal, the most common one was that separate school systems for blacks and whites were inherently unequal, and thus violate the "equal protection clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, relying on sociological tests, such as the one performed by social scientist Kenneth Clark, and other data, he also argued that segregated school systems had a tendency to make black children feel inferior to white children, and thus such a system should not be legally permissible.[emphasis added]

It turns out that when we presume to mold society into a utopian vision, we usually don’t know what the heck we’re talking about. And it also turns out that boys are very different from girls. Perhaps the best advice we can take is to ignore the social scientists.

Major hat tip: Cliff Thier

One of the pillars of liberal social engineering is the belief that subsidies permitting poor people to move into nicer neighborhoods helps improve their life prospects. The multi-billion dollar Section 8 rent voucher program is premised on this notion, providing taxpayer funding for poor people to rent apartments in buildings and neighborhoods that house wealthier people. Many localities also require developers to provide a certain number of below-market rental units for poor people as a condition for approving new rental housing construction. A huge amount of money is being poured into projects promoting the integration of poor people into middle class neighborhoods.

But a new large study funded by the federal government (who else?) has discovered that moving poor boys into richer neighborhoods is so disruptive that its effects are like those of PTSD. Sarah Sloat in The New Republic:

According to the study authors, led by Harvard professor Ronald Kessler, boys who move into more affluent neighborhoods report higher rates of depression and conduct disorder than their female peers. (snip)

Kessler’s study was conducted using data from Moving to Opportunity (MTO), a decades-spanning housing mobility experiment financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Within this project, 4,604 volunteer families with 3,689 children were randomly divided into three groups. Two of them received different versions of rent-subsidy vouchers that enabled them to move into a better neighborhood. A control group did not move.

In follow-up interviews conducted 10 to 15 years later, boys reported higher proportions of major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and conduct disorder than boys within the control group—rates of PTSD comparable to those of combat soldiers. The opposite occurred with girls, who reported mental health that was substantially better than the girls who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods.

But wait a minute! We have been told ever since Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that required racial integration in schools, that social science confirmed that separation was psychologically harmful:

When the cases came before the Supreme Court in 1952, the Court consolidated all five cases under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. [Thurgood] Marshall personally argued the case before the Court. Although he raised a variety of legal issues on appeal, the most common one was that separate school systems for blacks and whites were inherently unequal, and thus violate the "equal protection clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, relying on sociological tests, such as the one performed by social scientist Kenneth Clark, and other data, he also argued that segregated school systems had a tendency to make black children feel inferior to white children, and thus such a system should not be legally permissible.[emphasis added]

It turns out that when we presume to mold society into a utopian vision, we usually don’t know what the heck we’re talking about. And it also turns out that boys are very different from girls. Perhaps the best advice we can take is to ignore the social scientists.

Major hat tip: Cliff Thier