The prosperity of our city rests on the shoulders of its children. They are our next generation of citizens, workers, parents and leaders. Without their success, we all have a dimmer future.
Unfortunately, too many children in the nation’s capital are growing up in communities that limit their ability to reach their full potential, according to data from the national 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Like their counterparts across the country, D.C. children saw setbacks in their economic well-being, even while experiencing gains in education and health. The D.C. data show an alarming level of poverty and need among D.C.’s children and their families:
* 31,000 D.C. children — one out of three — lived in poverty in 2010, despite a 6 percent decrease in the overall percentage of the city’s children living in poverty between 2005 and 2010. Together, these children would fill the Verizon Center, nearly twice.
* The percentage of children whose parents lacked secure employment increased by 7 percent between 2008 and 2010.
* The percentage of children living in households with a high housing cost burden increased by 2 percent between 2005 and 2010. From our research at D.C. Action for Children, we know that city-wide data do not tell the whole story of how children and families are doing in the District. (We will have more to say about this when we launch our 2012 D.C. KIDS COUNT interactive tool in October.)
Children grow up in, and their families live in, neighborhoods. The characteristics of those neighborhoods deeply affect all aspects of children’s lives — how they live, learn and play. Some D.C. neighborhoods have many assets that enrich children’s lives.
Others, however, are characterized by concentrated poverty, which creates (and continues) many challenges for children and families living in them, including poor performing schools, higher levels of violent crime and less access to healthy food, libraries and parks and recreation centers.
These neighborhood-based differences drive inequity in opportunity for our city’s children and are beyond the power of individual children and families to change. They are a product of and perpetuate a long and regrettable history of racial discrimination and segregation that was institutional and created and enforced over centuries by laws and practices whose effects we still feel today.
Changing these inequities in opportunity will require shared public attention, understanding and action, and the recognition that we all have responsibility for raising the next generation that is physically and mentally healthy, well-educated and productive. Working together, all of us who care about our city’s future must invest in our children’s success by:
* Seeding, nurturing and building on child, family and neighborhood assets that help children grow up healthy and thriving.
* Identifying where assets and needs are misaligned for children.
* Building data systems that help us identify where we are succeeding and where we are failing, and why.
Isn’t it time we started working together to sever the link between a child’s ZIP code and a child’s chances of success in school and in life?
Gwen Rubinstein is deputy director at DC Action for Children. Follow her on Twitter: @gwenrr @ActforDChildren.
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