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Inequities in Child Opportunity Revealed in Latest Research of US Neighborhoods

Posted on February 13, 2020 by Kim Doleatto, Herald-Tribune Media Group

Adjacent neighborhoods can have wide disparities in lifelong outcomes.

Along much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, inequities are more common between neighborhoods in the same city than they are across the country.

And they can affect everything from life expectancy to earnings.

That’s according to the Child Opportunity Index 2.0., the most extensive dataset on neighborhood conditions for children to date.

The COI ranks neighborhoods by level of child opportunity from very low to very high in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, where two-thirds of children live.

“It’s a startling pattern and is one of the key results of the report. There are high- and low-opportunity levels in every metro area. Even in the ones with the highest, we still find low-opportunity ones. The converse is also true,” said Dr. Clemens Noelke, director of the Diversity Data Kids project and co-author of the report.

An interactive tool also allows users to look up child opportunity levels by metro across the nation.

Indicators for measuring child opportunity included proximity and enrollment in quality early child care centers, length of work commute for parents, neighborhood housing vacancies, air quality, proximity to green spaces, health insurance coverage, graduation rates, and third-grade reading proficiency — there are 29 in all.

In the Sarasota, North Port and Bradenton metro areas, the map illustrates how children’s opportunities can be worlds apart, while geographically a hop and a skip away.

In Amaryllis Park, in North Sarasota, child opportunity is marked as very low, yet borders the strip along Sarasota Bay, scored as a very high child opportunity level area, according to the report.

The same inequity is illustrated in South Bradenton, which has a very low score, and neighboring West Bradenton, which has a high score.

Race and ethnicity were not among the indicators used in the research; however, the report did reveal that nationally, roughly 60% of black and Hispanic children live in low or very low-opportunity neighborhoods compared to roughly 20% of white and Asian/Pacific Islander children.

“We didn’t go into detail about causes behind low-opportunity neighborhoods, but segregation is closely connected to the legacy that persists and the practices that reinforce these patterns, like lending, housing and landlord discrimination and low-resource schools,” Noelke said.

Metros in the southern part of the country have lower child opportunity scores than those in the north.

Bakersfield, Calif., scored lowest in the nation, and Madison, Wisc., scored highest.

Lakeland made it into the top 10 lowest ranking metros for child opportunity, and top 10 list of highest proportion of children, 31%, who live in very low-opportunity neighborhoods.

Among many benefits, when children live in high-opportunity neighborhoods and are surrounded by adults who have higher graduation rates and work at fulfilling fair-paying jobs, it sends the message that such goals are attainable.

When they live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, reaching their full potential is a challenge.

Across all metros, there’s a seven-year difference in life expectancy between very low-opportunity neighborhoods, 75 years, and very high-opportunity neighborhoods, 82 years.

And household income at age 35 ranges from $29,000 for children who grew up in very low-opportunity neighborhoods to $45,000 for those who grew up in very high-opportunity neighborhoods.

Those are just some reasons why addressing inequities highlighted in the COI can elevate not only families but whole neighborhoods.

“There are a lot of social consequences. At some point, the problems you don’t solve early cost everyone, and the benefit will benefit everyone. If you treat children with medical issues or give them access to quality education, they’ll be less likely to rely on social support systems later on,” he said.

The report aims to provide data to identify and address specific zones of need where policymakers, nonprofits, and organizations that support families can make the most impact.

Noelke said the next report will be published in two or three years.

The COI 2.0 is a collaboration between Brandeis University’s Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, the Project.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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