New York is home to an estimated 19.7 million people, the fourth most-populous and highest-taxed state in the country.  

When most people think of New York, they think of New York City, which at 8.4 million people happens to be the most-populated city in the U.S. 

However, we live in Putnam County, in the town of Carmel, 40 miles north of the city, home to only about 34,000 residents. For some, living in Putnam County is a dream: clean air and beautiful surroundings, and in relatively close proximity to the advantages of New York City and higher paying jobs.    

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Living in this comparatively unspoiled suburban environment has both advantages and disadvantages. A family of four, that owns its home and earns a median household income of approximately $110,000 has a yearly “wake-up” cost of about $96,000.  In addition to $35,000 in local, state, and federal taxes, wake-up costs include housing, food, childcare, transportation, health care and necessities such as clothing, entertainment, personal care products and services, reading materials, educational materials and other miscellaneous but mostly necessary items.

That leaves a family of four about $12,000 annually to spend or save.  So, then, what is the great value of living here, especially since the high cost of living means you are constantly struggling to save for your future and the future of your kids?  

Could it be safety? The town of Carmel is considered the 12th safest city in the state, based on FBI violent-crime statistics. For 2016, the violent-crime rate was 34.7 per 100,000. That means that residents had about a one-third of 1 percent chance of being victimized. And homeowners had less than a 1 percent chance of being the victim of a property crime. 

More living space?  An average home in this town—and they all have back yards—costs a fraction of what a large city apartment does.  Perhaps it’s the opportunity to send your kid to a better school.  Maybe it’s the recreational opportunities. Or, is it living on a street devoid of traffic, and having friendlier neighbors? Could it be a desire to avoid the sounds of the city—traffic, sirens, and alarms that go off in the middle of the night?

It’s probably all of the above.  

According to Harvard economists Nathaniel Hendren and Raj Chetty, where you grow up actually matters and is a major determinant of where you’re headed in life. 
“We think there are really large causal effects of local communities on children’s long-term success,” they wrote.

Young children growing up in an upwardly mobile community experience significantly higher earnings as adults. Hendren and Chetty suggest that a child’s capacity to achieve financially as an adult is a direct function of his or her early surroundings, and the longer they were exposed to that environment, the greater the income disparity.
“Income mobility is higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools, and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups,” they state.

Follow-up research in multiple communities expands on these findings. Five factors are now believed to contribute to increased income potential and upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime and a larger share of two-parent households.
How does Putnam County measure up? Quite well! When compared to all communities nationwide, Hendren and Chetty’s research indicates that a childhood spent in Putnam County significantly influences upward mobility. In this regard, Putnam County ranks better than 83 percent of all counties in the U.S.  

Where you grow up does matter.