Even Great Ideas Have Unintended Consequences

Economists don’t get many opportunities to do controlled experiments. It’s not chemistry. So when one comes along and we get a chance to see the impact of such an experiment it’s kind of a big deal.

Since the 1990s the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has experimented with the benefits of taking families out of impoverished neighborhoods and placing them in better ones. This is through a program that subsidizes housing to allow for such movement. A control group does not receive subsidies and and the resulting groups are compared to see if there’s a benefit to getting kids out of bad neighborhoods.

How has the program worked out? Not so great. Adults don’t really end up better off economically and kids don’t perform all that better in schools. It does show that in some areas like mental health there are benefits (especially for women), so don’t consider the program a waste for now.

But the program has one area where things may be really bad. The male kids that were relocated experienced levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD comparable combat troops. That’s right. PTSD comparable to combat troops.

The idea behind this program is well-intentioned and followed a pretty sound theory. Give poor kids and families a chance to get out of bad neighborhoods. But it seems, as with many economic ideas, the answer isn’t so clear.

Read: For Boys, Moving to a Wealthier Neighborhood Is as Traumatic as Going to War (New Republic)

  • By The Weakonomist
  • Posted in Housing, psychology
  • Tagged PTSD
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