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“Washington, D.C.’s infant mortality rate is an international embarrassment,” tweeted New Republic web editor Ryan Kearney this morning. He included a link to a story the magazine had just published about a new Save the Children report finding that D.C. had by far the highest infant mortality rate of 25 capitals of high-income countries. D.C.’s rate, of 7.9 deaths under the age of one per 1,000 live births in 2012, is above America’s national average of 6.1 and dwarfs the rate in cities like Stockholm, Prague, and Oslo, where it’s under 2 per 1,000.
That looks truly embarrassing for D.C.—-until you compare it with other American cities. According to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project, which the report used in creating its rankings, 18 major American cities have rates equal to or higher than the District, as of 2011. D.C.’s rate that year was 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births, a substantial decline from its rate of 13.1 just four years earlier. Chicago’s was 7.9. Atlanta’s was 9.3. Philadelphia’s was 9.3. Baltimore’s was 10.8. Detroit’s was 12.4. Cleveland’s was 14.1.
As the New Republic points out, the geographic inequity that so often infects the District applies to infant mortality as well. The infant mortality rate in Ward 8 is more than 10 times higher than in Ward 3. That truly is shameful, although it’s not unique to the District.
But looking at the citywide data, it’s not fair to put the badge of embarrassment on D.C. alone. High infant mortality affects cities across the country, many much worse than D.C. This embarrassment belongs to America.
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