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Residential, Economic, and Transportation Mobility: The Changing Geography of Low-Income Households

  • Author(s): Schouten, Andrew
  • Advisor(s): Blumenberg, Evelyn A
  • et al.

Over the past 30 years, economic distress in suburban neighborhoods has become more pronounced. This dissertation, which consists of three self-contained essays, examines how three types of mobility—residential, economic, and transportation—have contributed to the growing number of low-income households living in suburban communities.

In the first essay, I assess the degree to which residential mobility has affected the income dynamics of metropolitan areas in the U.S. I find that poorer residents suburbanized rapidly between 1999 and 2015, leaving central-city neighborhoods for outlying areas at high rates. However, during the same time period, higher-income households also made urban-to-suburban moves in large numbers, meaning that the overall effect of population flows on suburban low-income rates was relatively modest. Results also show that low-income households that relocated from central-city neighborhoods to suburban communities were different from those that remained in urban neighborhoods. Specifically, urban-to-suburban movers were more likely to be white, had more household resources, and lived in origin neighborhoods with lower population densities and less transit supply than those that made intra-urban relocations.

The second essay addresses the influence of economic mobility on the low-income rates of both urban and suburban geographies. The results indicate that in most suburban and urban neighborhood types, more residents transitioned out of low-income status than fell below the low-income threshold. Consequently, economic mobility generally led to aggregate decreases in the percentage of low-income individuals in a given type of neighborhood. At the household level, however, income volatility was more pronounced, and families living in older, moderately dense residential neighborhoods had a relatively high likelihood of experiencing downward economic mobility.

Finally, the third essay investigates how low-income households adapt their transportation mobility to fit new residential contexts. In particular, I examine the relationship between inter-geography relocations and changes in automobile ownership. Findings demonstrate that poorer families adjusted their vehicle ownership to suit the built-environment characteristics of their destination neighborhoods. For example, carless households that made urban-to-suburban moves had a higher likelihood of acquiring a vehicle, ceteris paribus; by contrast, car-owning families that made suburban-to-urban moves had a relatively high probability of reducing their automobile ownership, and were more likely to become carless than households that moved within the suburbs.

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