Detailed New National Maps Show How Neighborhoods Shape Children for Life

Good and interesting data analysis with equally good data visualization:

The part of this city east of Northgate Mall looks like many of the neighborhoods that surround it, with its modest midcentury homes beneath dogwood and Douglas fir trees.

Whatever distinguishes this place is invisible from the street. But it appears that poor children who grow up here — to a greater degree than children living even a mile away — have good odds of escaping poverty over the course of their lives.

Believing this, officials in the Seattle Housing Authority are offering some families with housing vouchers extra rent money and help to find a home here: between 100th and 115th Streets, east of Meridian, west of 35th Avenue. Officials drew these lines, and boundaries around several other Seattle neighborhoods, using highly detailed research on the economic fortunes of children in nearly every neighborhood in America.

The research has shown that where children live matters deeply in whether they prosper as adults. On Monday the Census Bureau, in collaboration with researchers at Harvard and Brown, published nationwide data that will make it possible to pinpoint — down to the census tract, a level relevant to individual families — where children of all backgrounds have the best shot at getting ahead.

This work, years in the making, seeks to bring the abstract promise of big data to the real lives of children. Across the country, city officials and philanthropists who have dreamed of such a map are planning how to use it. They’re hoping it can help crack open a problem, the persistence of neighborhood disadvantage, that has been resistant to government interventions and good intentions for years.

Nationwide, the variation is striking. Children raised in poor families in some neighborhoods of Memphis went on to make just $16,000 a year in their adult households; children from families of similar means living in parts of the Minneapolis suburbs ended up making four times as much.

The local disparities, however, are the most curious, and the most compelling to policymakers. In one of the tracts just north of Seattle’s 115th Street — a place that looks similarly leafy, with access to the same middle school — poor children went on to households earning about $5,000 less per year than children raised in Northgate. They were more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to be employed.

The researchers believe much of this variation is driven by the neighborhoods themselves, not by differences in what brings people to live in them. The more years children spend in a good neighborhood, the greater the benefits they receive. And what matters, the researchers find, is a hyper-local setting: the environment within about half a mile of a child’s home.

At that scale, these patterns — a refinement of previous research at the county level — have become much less theoretical, and easier to act on.

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A map used by the Seattle Housing Authority identifies neighborhoods, shaded in purple, where housing officials and researchers believe that poor children have particularly good odds of rising out of poverty.CreditSeattle Housing Authority

“That’s exciting and inspiring and daunting in some ways that we’re actually talking about real families, about kids growing up in different neighborhoods based on this data,” said the Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the project’s researchers, along with Nathaniel Hendren at Harvard, John N. Friedman at Brown, and Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter at the Census Bureau.

The Seattle and King County housing authorities are testing whether they can leverage their voucher programs to move families to where opportunity already exists. In Charlotte, where poverty is deeper and more widespread, community leaders are hoping to nurse opportunity where it’s missing.

In other communities, the researchers envision that this mapping could help identify sites for new Head Start centers, or neighborhoods for “Opportunity Zones” created by the 2017 tax law. Children from low-opportunity neighborhoods, they suggest, could merit priority for selective high schools.

For any government program or community grant that targets a specific place, this data proposes a better way to pick those places — one based not on neighborhood poverty levels, but on whether we expect children will escape poverty as adults.

That metric is both more specific and more mysterious. Researchers still don’t understand exactly what leads some neighborhoods to nurture children, although they point to characteristics like more employed adults and two-parent families that are common among such places. Other features like school boundary lines and poverty levels often cited as indicators of good neighborhoods explain only half of the variation here.

“These things are now possible to think about in a different way than you thought about them before,” said Greg Russ, the head of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, which is also planning to use the data. “Is opportunity a block away? These are the kind of questions we can ask.”

The answers shown here are based on the adult earnings of 20.5 million children, captured in anonymous, individual-level census and tax data that links each child with his or her parents. That data covers nearly all children in America born between 1978 and 1983, although the map here illustrates the subset of those children raised in poorer families. The research offers a time-lapse view of what happened to them: who became a teenage mother, who went to prison, who wound up in the middle class, and who remained trapped in poverty for another generation.

Few of the children from Northgate still live in the neighborhood, but the data traces their outcomes as adults today back to the place that helped shape them…

Will Robots Take Our Children’s Jobs? – The New York Times

Good read by Alex Williams on the occupations most likely to be threatened and the coming disruption:

But artificial intelligence is different, said Martin Ford, the author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.” Machine learning does not just give us new machines to replace old machines, pushing human workers from one industry to another. Rather, it gives us new machines to replace us, machines that can follow us to virtually any new industry we flee to.

Since Mr. Ford’s book sent me down this rabbit hole in the first place, I reached out to him to see if he was concerned about all this for his own children: Tristan, 22, Colin, 17, and Elaine, 10.

He said the most vulnerable jobs in the robot economy are those involving predictable, repetitive tasks, however much training they require. “A lot of knowledge-based jobs are really routine — sitting in front of a computer and cranking out the same application over and over, whether it is a report or some kind of quantitative analysis,” he said.

Professions that rely on creative thinking enjoy some protection (Mr. Ford’s older son is a graduate student studying biomedical engineering). So do jobs emphasizing empathy and interpersonal communication (his younger son wants to be a psychologist).

Even so, the ability to think creatively may not provide ultimate salvation. Mr. Ford said he was alarmed in May when Google’s AlphaGo software defeated a 19-year-old Chinese master at Go, considered the world’s most complicated board game.

“If you talk to the best Go players, even they can’t explain what they’re doing,” Mr. Ford said. “They’ll describe it as a ‘feeling.’ It’s moving into the realm of intuition. And yet a computer was able to prove that it can beat anyone in the world.”

Looking for a silver lining, I spent an afternoon Googling TED Talks with catchy titles like “Are Droids Taking Our Jobs?”

In one, Albert Wenger, an influential tech investor, promoted the Basic Income Guarantee concept. Also known as Universal Basic Income, this sunny concept holds that a robot-driven economy may someday produce an unlimited bounty of cool stuff while simultaneously releasing us from the drudgery of old-fashioned labor, leaving our government-funded children to enjoy bountiful lives of leisure as interpretive dancers or practitioners of bee-sting therapy, as touted by Gwyneth Paltrow.

The idea is all the rage among Silicon Valley elites, who not only understand technology’s power, but who also love to believe that it will be used for good. In their vision of a post-A.I. world without traditional jobs, everyone will receive a minimum weekly or monthly stipend (welfare for all, basically).

Another talk by David Autor, an economist, argued that reports of the death of work are greatly exaggerated. Almost 50 years after the introduction of the A.T.M., for instance, more humans actually work as bank tellers than ever. The computers simply freed the humans from mind-numbing work like counting out 20-dollar bills to focus on more cognitively demanding tasks like “forging relationships with customers, solving problems and introducing them to new products like credit cards, loans and investments,” he said.

Computers, after all, are really good at some things and, for the moment, terrible at others. Even Anton intuits this. The other day I asked him if he thought robots were smarter or dumber than humans. “Sdumber,” he said after a long pause. Confused, I pushed him. “Smarter and dumber,” he explained with a cheeky smile.

He was joking. But he also happened to be right, according to Andrew McAfee, a management theorist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whom I interviewed a short while later.

Discussing another of Anton’s career aspirations — songwriter — Dr. McAfee said that computers were already smart enough to come up with a better melody than a lot of humans. “The things our ears find pleasant, we know the rules for that stuff,” he said. “However, I’m going to be really surprised when there is a digital lyricist out there, somebody who can put words to that music that will actually resonate with people and make them think something about the human condition.”

Not everyone, of course, is cut out to be a cyborg-Springsteen. I asked Dr. McAfee what other jobs may exist a decade from now.

“I think health coaches are going to be a big industry of the future,” he said. “Restaurants that have a very good hospitality staff are not about to go away, even though we have more options to order via tablet.

“People who are interested in working with their hands, they’re going to be fine,” he said. “The robot plumber is a long, long way away.”

via Will Robots Take Our Children’s Jobs? – The New York Times

In Blow to Tech Industry, Trump Shelves Start-Up Immigrant Rule – The New York Times

Building more opportunities for Canada and others:

The Trump administration said it would delay, and probably eliminate down the line, a federal rule that would have let foreign entrepreneurs come to the United States to start companies.

The decision, announced by the federal government on Monday ahead of its official publication on Tuesday, was quickly slammed by business leaders and organizations, especially from the technology sector, which has benefited heavily from start-ups founded by immigrants.

“Today’s announcement is extremely disappointing and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the critical role immigrant entrepreneurs play in growing the next generation of American companies,” Bobby Franklin, the president and chief executive of the National Venture Capital Association, a trade association for start-up investors, said in a statement.

He added that even as other countries are going all out to attract entrepreneurs, “the Trump administration is signaling its intent to do the exact opposite.”

The policy being delayed by the Department of Homeland Security, known as the International Entrepreneur Rule, was to go into effect next week, after being approved by President Obama in January during his final days in office.

The rule was enacted to give foreign entrepreneurs who received significant financial backing for new business ventures the ability to come temporarily to the United States to build their companies. Silicon Valley leaders had praised the rule as a kind of “start-up visa.”

The department said it would delay the start date of the rule until March 14 of next year, during which time it will seek public comments on a plan to rescind the rule. The department said it decided to delay the rule after President Trump signed an executive order on improvements to border security and immigration enforcement on Jan. 25, shortly after taking office.

The order required the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to take action to ensure that “parole authority” — through which the department can temporarily allow individuals into the country without being formally admitted with a visa — be used only on a case-by-case basis and “when an individual demonstrates urgent humanitarian reasons or a significant public benefit derived from such parole.”

The International Entrepreneur Rule was designed to use that authority to effectively give a lift to start-ups. Under the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that nearly 3,000 entrepreneurs would be eligible to come to the United States annually under the rule. They were to be granted stays of up to 30 months, with the chance of extending the stays another 30 months if the entrepreneurs met certain criteria.

To qualify, they had to show that they had raised $250,000 or more for their businesses from established American investors or $100,000 or more in grants from government entities.

Steve Case, an investor who was a founder of AOL, blasted the decision on Twitter. “Big mistake,” he wrote. “Immigrant entrepreneurs are job makers, not job takers.”

Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group representing the consumer technology industry, said the delay of the rule would damage American innovation and job creation.

“The 44 immigrant-founded billion-dollar start-ups now in the U.S. have created an average of 760 American jobs per company,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement. “Without these immigrant entrepreneurs, it is unlikely America would stand as the beacon of innovation that it is today.”

Canada’s Secret to Resisting the West’s Populist Wave – The New York Times

Although I find Taub’s analysis superficial (and her understanding of multiculturalism’s history as being driven the Quebec narrative rather than the pressures by other groups such as Ukrainian Canadians that did not see themselves in a bicultural narrative), nevertheless she notes correctly that all political parties have to engage and court new Canadian voters:

As right-wing populism has roiled elections and upended politics across the West, there is one country where populists have largely failed to break through: Canada.

The raw ingredients are present. A white ethnic majority that is losing its demographic dominance. A sharp rise in immigration that is changing culture and communities. News media and political personalities who bet big on white backlash.

Yet Canada’s politics remain stable. Its centrist liberal establishment is popular. Not only have the politics of white backlash failed, but immigration and racial diversity are sources of national pride. And when anti-establishment outsiders have run the populist playbook, they have found defeat.

Outsiders might assume this is because Canada is simply more liberal, but they would be wrong. Rather, Canada has resisted the populist wave through a set of strategic decisions, powerful institutional incentives, strong minority coalitions and idiosyncratic circumstances.

While there is no magic answer to populism, Canada’s experience offers unexpected lessons for other nations.

A Different Kind of Identity

In other Western countries, right-wing populism has emerged as a politics of us-versus-them. It pits members of white majorities against immigrants and minorities, driven by a sense that cohesive national identities are under threat. In France, for instance, it is common to hear that immigration dilutes French identity, and that allowing minority groups to keep their own cultures erodes vital elements of Frenchness.

Identity works differently in Canada. Both whites and nonwhites see Canadian identity as something that not only can accommodate outsiders, but is enhanced by the inclusion of many different kinds of people.

Canada is a mosaic rather than a melting pot, several people told me — a place that celebrates different backgrounds rather than demanding assimilation.

“Lots of immigrants, they come with their culture, and Canadians like that,” said Ilya Bolotine, an information technology worker from Russia, whom I met at a large park on the Lake Ontario waterfront. “They like variety. They like diversity.”

Identity rarely works this way. Around the world, people tend to identify with their race, religion or at least language. Even in the United States, an immigrant nation, politics have long clustered around demographic in-groups.

Canada’s multicultural identity is largely the result of political maneuvering.

In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau faced a crisis amid the rise of French Canadian separatism in Quebec. His party was losing support, and his country seemed at risk of splitting in two.

Mr. Trudeau’s solution was a policy of official multiculturalism and widespread immigration. This would resolve the conflict over whether Canadian identity was more Anglophone or Francophone — it would be neither, with a range of diversity wide enough to trivialize the old divisions.

It would also provide a base of immigrant voters to shore up Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

Then, in the early 2000s, another politician’s shrewd calculation changed the dynamics of ethnic politics, cementing multiculturalism across all parties.

Jason Kenney, then a Conservative member of Parliament, convinced Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the party should court immigrants, who — thanks to Mr. Trudeau’s efforts — had long backed the Liberal Party.

“I said the only way we’d ever build a governing coalition was with the support of new Canadians, given changing demography,” Mr. Kenney said.

He succeeded. In the 2011 and 2015 elections, the Conservatives won a higher share of the vote among immigrants than it did among native-born citizens.

The result is a broad political consensus around immigrants’ place in Canada’s national identity.

That creates a virtuous cycle. All parties rely on and compete for minority voters, so none has an incentive to cater to anti-immigrant backlash. That, in turn, keeps anti-immigrant sentiment from becoming a point of political conflict, which makes it less important to voters.

In Britain, among white voters who say they want less immigration, about 40 percent also say that limiting immigration is the most important issue to them. In the United States, that figure is about 20 percent. In Canada, according to a 2011 study, it was only 0.34 percent.

The Soft Power of Militant Jihad – The New York Times

An angle that has not received much coverage by Thomas Hegghammer, Director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.:

Why have tens of thousands of people from around the world chosen to live under the Islamic State’s draconian rule and fight under its black flag? To understand this phenomenon, we must recognize that the world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves.

For the past four years I have been studying what jihadis do in their spare time. The idea is simple: To really understand a community, we need to look at everything its members do. Using autobiographies, videos, blog posts, tweets and defectors’ accounts, I have sought a sense of the cultural dimensions of jihadi activism. What I have discovered is a world of art and emotions. While much of it has parallels in mainstream Muslim culture, these militants have put a radical ideological spin on it.

When jihadis aren’t fighting — which is most of the time — they enjoy storytelling and watching films, cooking and swimming. The social atmosphere (at least for those who play by the rules) is egalitarian, affectionate and even playful. Jihadi life is emotionally intense, filled with the thrill of combat, the sorrow of loss, the joy of camaraderie and the elation of religious experience. I suspect this is a key source of its attraction.

The corridors of jihadi safe houses are filled with music or, more precisely, a cappella hymns (since musical instruments are forbidden) known as anashid. There’s nothing militant about this traditional genre, which dates from pre-Islamic times. But in the 1970s, Islamists began composing their own ideological songs about their favored themes. Today there are thousands of jihadi songs in circulation, with new tunes being added every month. Jihadis can’t seem to get enough anashid. They listen to them in their dorms and in their cars, sing them in training camps and in the trenches, and discuss them on Twitter and Facebook. Some use them to mentally prepare for operations: Ayoub El Khazani, a 25-year-old Moroccan man who attempted a shooting attack on a Paris-bound train in August, listened to YouTube videos of jihadi anashid just minutes before his failed operation.

Anashid are closely related to poetry, another staple of jihadi culture. Across the Arab and Islamic world, poetry is much more widely appreciated than it is in the West. Militants, though, have used the genre to their own ends. Over the past three decades or so, jihadi poets have developed a vast body of radical verse. Leaders from the Islamic State’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani to Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahri often include lines of poetry in their speeches and treatises. Foot soldiers in Syria and Iraq sometimes hold impromptu poetry performances or group recitals in the field.

Perhaps more important than poems for jihadis are dreams, which they believe can contain instructions from God or premonitions of the future. Both leaders and foot soldiers say they sometimes rely on nighttime visions for decision making. Omar Hammami, the Alabama-born man who fought with the Shabab in Somalia in the late 2000s, said he thought of defecting, “but it was really a few dreams that tipped the scales and caused me to stay.” Mullah Omar, the mysterious one-eyed Taliban leader who died in 2013, reportedly made no consequential strategic decision before getting advice from his dreams.

Jihadi culture also comes with its own sartorial styles. In Europe, radicals sometimes wear a combination of sneakers, a Middle Eastern or Pakistani gown and a combat jacket on top. It’s a style that perhaps reflects their urban roots, Muslim identity and militant sympathies. The men often follow Salafi etiquette, for example by carrying a tooth-cleaning twig known as a miswak, wearing nonalcoholic perfume, and avoiding gold jewelry, as they believe the Prophet Muhammad did.

As new recruits shed their jeans and track suits for robes, as they memorize the words to the Islamic State’s anashid and learn to look for glimpses of paradise in dreams, they discover a whole new lifestyle. Music, rituals and customs may be as important to jihadi recruitment as theological treatises and political arguments. Yes, some people join radical groups because they want to escape personal problems, avenge Western foreign policy or obey a radical doctrine. But some recruits may join because they find a cultural community and a new life that is emotionally rewarding.

As the West comes to terms with a new and growing threat — horrifically evident in the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. — we are not only confronting organizations and doctrines, but also a highly seductive subculture. This is bad news. Governments are much better equipped to take on the Slaughterer than they are He Who Weeps a Lot.

Source: The Soft Power of Militant Jihad – The New York Times

Can’t Put Down Your Device? That’s by Design – The New York Times

Next time you can’t stop yourself looking at your various social media feeds and other apps, consider how companies are engineering such stickiness:

Tech companies tend to present these feedback loops as consumer conveniences. A new Intel TV ad, for instance, shows a young girl in the back of a car growing sad because the laptop on which she was watching a singalong video suddenly runs out of power. The company’s new battery-preserving processor, though, ultimately saves the day, “so you never have to stop watching.” T-Mobile has just introduced BingeOn, a feature that offers subscribers on certain plans unlimited high-speed access to popular streaming video channels.

An image from “Network Effect.”

There’s even an industry term for the experts who continually test and tweak apps and sites to better hook consumers, keep them coming back and persuade them to stay longer: growth hackers.

“How do you drive habitual use of a product?” said Sean Ellis, the chief executive of GrowthHackers.com, a software company specializing in online growth techniques. “It’s not just about getting new people. It’s about retaining the people you already have and, ultimately, getting them to bring in more people.”

As an example, Mr. Ellis described how he recently started using a free meditation app, called Calm, which has a calendar feature that gently nudges subscribers to use the service more. Every time he finishes a session, the app “shows me I’m doing one every three to four days,” Mr. Ellis said. “But it’s clear to me that I should be doing one every day, based on the graphic.”

Yet technologists like Tristan Harris, a design ethicist who is also a product philosopher at Google, warn that growth hacking, taken to its extreme, can encourage sites and apps to escalate their use of persuasive design techniques with potentially unintended consequences for consumers. He compares online engagement maximization efforts to the so-called bliss-point techniques some food companies have developed to hook consumers on a stew of fat, salt and sugar.

“The ‘I don’t have enough willpower’ conversation misses the fact that there are 1,000 people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down the self-regulation that you have,” said Mr. Harris, who emphasized that he was speaking only for himself and not for Google.

Mr. Harris is also the co-director of an effort called Time Well Spent, which encourages tech companies to provide more choices for users who would like to limit session-prolonging techniques like autoplaying one video or song after another. He said he envisioned alternative app designs that might measure success not in followers, connections, endorsements or likes accumulated, but in meaningful relationships developed or desired jobs offered.

“Right now, many company leaders and designers would like to do these things differently, but the incentives aren’t aligned to do this,” Mr. Harris said.

Certainly, it may be difficult for efforts like Time Well Spent and art projects like “Network Effect” to sway companies that find themselves in increasingly heated competition for online users’ attention.

Source: Can’t Put Down Your Device? That’s by Design – The New York Times

The Worst Kind Of Groundhog Day: Let’s Talk (Again) About Diversity In Publishing

Lack of diversity in the recommended summer reading lists by the major US publications:

Another day, another all-white list of recommended reading. This year’s New York Times summer reading list, compiled annually by Times literary critic Janet Maslin, offered up zero books by non-white authors. Gawker’s Jason Parham marveled that the list has achieved “peak caucasity” while Divya Guha and staff at Quartz offered an alternate reading list comprised of Indian writers.

And that’s what’s so frustrating about this list; this summer brings so many excellent books from writers of color, many of whom are very well known and have enthusiastic audiences — Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Loving Day by Mat Johnson, In the Country by Mia Alvar, Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet, The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson, Only the Strong by Jabari Asim, Lovers on All Saint’s Day by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Re: Jane by Patricia Park, Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, and others — that it requires magical thinking to avoid an uncharitable reading of the NYT’s picks.

It is worth noting that the Times’s recommended summer readings lists in 2012, 2013, and 2014 were similarly lacking in diversity. To be sure, they’re not alone. NPR also published a monochromatic reading list recently. “We are not implying that this list is comprehensive,” says Cara Tallo, senior supervising producer for Morning Edition, which ran a story featuring that list. In a response emailed to NPR, the New York Times also stressed that their list was not meant to be comprehensive. “While our selection reflects the summer releases offered by book publishers, we will be more alert to diversity among authors in the future,” says communications director Danielle Rhodes Ha.

No list can be comprehensive, but when we see alabaster roundups year after year, it warrants some scrutiny.

It’s one thing if a media brand deliberately targets segmented audiences. The Root publishes reading lists of all, or mostly, African-American writers. Jezebel does the same with female ones. But those sites make it clear that they’re not trying to talk to everyone. Big, national, general interest news brands like NPR and the NYT say they are. If these sites truly want — and, increasingly, need — readers of all colors and all backgrounds to tune in, monochromatic content is working against them. The message we get is, “We don’t see you. We don’t need you.”

This isn’t a logistical issue, a problem of critics not including diverse authors because they simply don’t know about them. I put together the above list of books in five minutes in a hotel room. Had I been home with the collection of galleys I’ve recently received, the list would have been twice as long and composed in half that time. And I assure you, I’m not the only one getting these galleys. The arts, entertainment, and books desks at every major publication and outlet are flooded with them, and an entire ecosystem of critics, producers, and editors is involved in compiling and signing off on these lists. Narrow reading is a less passive activity than some will claim.

As a writer and critic, I am not just bored with this conversation. I am sick of it. I have written these sentences before. I will write them again. Discussing diversity in publishing is the worst kind of Groundhog Day. What’s more, these lists put writers and readers of color in a deeply awkward position. We don’t want to take anything away from the writers who have been included on the list. I am currently reading Don Winslow’s The Cartel and I never want to put the book down. It is thoroughly immersive, finely detailed and the action has me breathless.

The problem is and has always been the exclusion of writers of color and other marginalized writers who have to push aside their own work and fight for inclusion, over and over and over again. We beg for scraps from a table we’re not invited to sit at. We are forced to defend our excellence because no one else will.

The Worst Kind Of Groundhog Day: Let’s Talk (Again) About Diversity In Publishing : Code Switch : NPR.