This study is adding a youth component to the investigators’ Moving to Opportunity (MTO) housing mobility experiment analysis to determine what setting changes and social processes might account for the youth outcomes, particularly for the discrepancy between boys and girls.
The Moving to Opportunity housing mobility experiment (MTO) was a 10-year research demonstration sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), implemented in Baltimore and 4 other cities. The results of the MTO program, which helped a group of families living in low-income, high-poverty areas move to less-impoverished neighborhoods, show that adults in this group experienced less distress, depression, and obesity after their moves. However, MTO did not impact the economic self-sufficiency or educational outcomes of the adults or their children. Where there was improvement, girls benefited more than boys. Edin and her team plan to use this grant to add on a youth component to their MTO analysis to determine what setting changes and social processes might account for the youth outcomes, particularly for the discrepancy between boys and girls. Their sample includes 200 young people, ages 15–24 and primarily low-income African-Americans, currently living in Baltimore. Participants were selected randomly from the Baltimore MTO voucher and control condition families. During the summer of 2010, each youth was interviewed about a wide range of topics, including educational careers, employment transitions, romantic/partner/parenting roles, sexuality, risk behaviors (incarceration; violence), and mental health and well-being. Preliminary findings indicate a trend that investigators are tentatively calling “assertive individualism” among young black men—in which one is responsible for focusing on one’s own goals without reference to the reactions of others, or any expectation of support from peers and others in the community. Resistance of “the street” first requires sophisticated neighborhood navigational skills and then withdrawal from the neighborhood altogether. Attachment to an alternative identity that validates being off the street is the next step; one that some only tentatively accomplish. Resisting the streets is therefore not a guarantee of success. The majority of respondents have been exposed to violence or severe trauma in their lives. Many of these traumatic experiences occurred in the respondents’ neighborhoods, yet many respondents said that they felt safe in their neighborhoods. The investigators found that the sexual behavior of young adults is complicated, particularly around the issue of prevention. Many respondents stated that once they trust their sex partner, they do not use condoms, citing that they trust that their partner will not cheat. Also, youth often describe testing after risky sex as protection.