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Gate Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman on stage at the GeekWire Summit. (Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will commit $15 million to get a new initiative called Opportunity Insights off the ground. This week, the organization, in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, published comprehensive nationwide data and maps that predict the likelihood that kids will escape poverty based on where they live.

Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann announced the funding on stage at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle Tuesday. It’s the organization’s first U.S. Economic Mobility and Poverty grant.

“With this precise level of data, you can literally see where it is more or less likely that a child can attain an income higher than their parents,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “That’s the American dream, that our children can do better.”

Children’s chances of earning more than their parents dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent over the past fifty years, according to Opportunity Insights. Researchers found that the neighborhoods children grow up in significantly impact their chances of getting ahead later in life and mere miles between childhood homes can have huge impacts down the road.

In Seattle, for example, when newborn babies in poor families move from a neighborhood with low upward mobility, the Central District, to one of high upward mobility, Shoreline, they end up making $9,000 more each year than if they’d moved later in life.

Housing authorities in Seattle are trying to use this type of opportunity data to inform their policy decisions. The Seattle Housing Authority is conducting a pilot study, showing housing voucher recipients which neighborhoods offer better opportunities for children and assisting them in moving to those areas.

(Opportunity Insights Image)

Opportunity Insights is a joint project with researchers from Harvard University, Brown University, and the U.S. Census Bureau. It was initiated by Harvard Economist Raj Chetty.

At the GeekWire Summit Tuesday, Desmond-Hellman said she is inspired by researchers like those behind Opportunity Insights because they rely on the same type of deep data analysis that corporations use.

“You don’t have to be a billionaire, and you don’t have to be not-for-profit to make a big difference and make a big impact … what I’m most excited about are people who tap into the same passion and pace and talent that we see in business, for good,” she said.

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