Youth in the District have experienced declines in their economic well-being—even though other areas like education and health have improved markedly since the Great Recession, according to a new analysis released today by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national children’s-advocacy organization.
Using 2008 as a starting point because it was in the middle of the country’s economic downturn, the Casey Foundation reports that the share of District kids living in poverty in 2013 grew slightly to 27 percent, or 30,000 children, from about 24 percent in 2012 and 26 percent in 2008. What’s more, one-third of D.C. children live in “high-poverty areas,” defined as census tracts where 30 percent or more of the population lives in poverty. The data—part of an annual “Kids Count” report published by the group—was pushed out by DC Action for Children, a nonprofit grantee of the foundation that tracks key indicators of child, youth, and neighborhood well-being.
“We’re hearing so much about the positive economic gains within the past couple of years, but children are not reaping the benefits,” says HyeSook Chung, executive director of the nonprofit.
According to the analysis, the percentages of children whose parents lack secure employment, who live in households with high housing costs, and who are neither in school nor working in the District all inched up by one or two points from 2008 to 2013. However, the share of children proficient in reading and math among fourth and eight graders, respectively, went up by about 10 percent each; preschool attendance and high-school graduation rates also improved significantly.
(Still, students in the District face disproportionate traumatic experiences that can impair their learning. A report released last month by the D.C. Children’s Law Center said that in 2014, about 4,000 D.C. public school students were homeless, and that many children had a parent in prison; such experiences could lead to behavioral outbursts in the classroom. “Education reforms in the District will not fully succeed if schools do not address the trauma that students bring with them to class,” that report read. “If we fail traumatized students our schools will fail as well.”)
The Kids Count data released today also reveals how D.C. compares to the U.S. as a whole. In 2013, a greater share of District children (27 percent) lived in poverty than U.S. children did (22 percent). But between 2008 and 2013, the national situation seems to have worsened to a greater degree than the situation in D.C. worsened: the share of American children in poverty rose four percentage points, while the share of their District peers only rose one percentage point.
Chung says the data suggests that there needs to be a better alignment of resources in the District, especially those related to children’s mental health. Early intervention and educational programs for kids under 5-years-old, she adds, could generate a big return on investment: less poverty.
“There’s this huge gap between where children live and where they get social services,” Chung explains. “We have to figure out how to provide them for kids who have mental-health needs.”
Image courtesy of DC Action for Children/The Annie E. Casey Foundation