How racial segregation still divide quality of opportunity for US kids – USA TODAY

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More than half a century after racial segregation practices like redlining were outlawed, data suggests race still plays a huge role in determining what kind of neighborhood a child grows up in.

According to findings released Thursday from the latest Child Opportunity Index, Black and Latino children in the U.S. are much more likely than their white counterparts to grow up in neighborhoods with poorer health outcomes, fewer educational opportunities and worse economic conditions.

Researchers at Brandeis University in Boston who created the Childhood Opportunity Index have for more than a decade analyzed the quality of opportunities available to children in thousands of neighborhoods nationwide. More than 40 neighborhood factors including building vacancy rates, green space and employment rates are considered, creating a portrait of the country’s 73,000 census tracts.

In the report, researchers involved with Brandeis University’s project considered the country’s 100 largest metro areas, finding deep disparities based on race − including when accounting for poverty.

According to the report: “A key form of inequality − the separation of children into neighborhoods with vastly different conditions − has been created and maintained by residential segregation.”

Researchers at the Childhood Opportunity Index said small factors in a child's environment, like the availability of fresh vegetables and other healthy foods, compound on top of one another to affect children's health.

Positive and negative factors within a neighborhood are often layered, creating a compounding effect for the children that live there, Clemens Noelke, research director for the project, told USA TODAY.

“Some kids are growing up in neighborhoods that have higher home values, better schools and more access to green nature − and on the other side a lot of children grow up in neighborhoods with high rates of pollution, under-resourced schools, low-quality jobs,” he said.

The first COI was released in 2014; the second in 2021. The third iteration, released Thursday, suggests educational attainment, wages and air pollution have improved for the U.S. as a whole, Noelke said.

“But the inequities that we see, they have largely persisted unchanged,” he added, referring to racial and geographic disparities.

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US children continue to grow up ‘a world apart’ within same city

Researchers categorized U.S. neighborhoods based on the level of opportunities available to children and families. Neighborhoods (census tracts) typically contain about 4,000 people and 1,600 housing units, the report says.

Neighborhoods were categorized based on factors like air pollution, pre-K enrollment, access to broadband internet, availability of health foods, walkability, teacher experience, extreme heat exposure and dozens of other variables.

Each of the thousands of neighborhoods analyzed fell into one of five opportunity levels:

  • Very high opportunity: Home to 27% of U.S. children.
  • High opportunity: Home to 21% of U.S. children.
  • Moderate opportunity: Home to 17% of U.S. children.
  • Low opportunity: Home to 16% of U.S. children.
  • Very low opportunity: Home to 19% of U.S. children.

Low-opportunity neighborhoods are associated with higher mortality rates, according to researchers. Researchers found life expectancy in very high-opportunity neighborhoods is 82 years old. In very low-opportunity neighborhoods, life expectancy dropped to 76 years old.

Across the U.S., Black and Latino children are more likely to live in lower-opportunity neighborhoods, while white and Asian children are clustered in higher-opportunity neighborhoods, researchers said.

In many of the largest metro areas in the country, neighborhoods on opposite ends of the opportunity spectrum could be a mile away from each other − or even border one another. Some neighborhoods within the same city have inequities as large as those between the lowest and highest-opportunity neighborhoods in the entire country, researchers said.

“The typical Asian or white child grows up essentially in a world apart,” Noelke said.

Neighborhoods in the project were compiled in the interactive map.

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Black, Latino children more likely to be in low-opportunity neighborhoods

Researchers said many low-opportunity and very low-opportunity neighborhoods overlap with those redlined by banking systems in the first half of the 20th century − a process that geographically segregated homeownership based on race.

“While most of these policies are now illegal, their effects remain,” the report says. Banks are still settling redlining complaints filed by the Justice Department. City National Bank in early 2023 agreed to pay $31 million for allegedly engaging in lending discrimination from 2017 through at least 2020, according to the DOJ.

The majority of Black children (61%) and Latino children (58%) live in lower-opportunity neighborhoods, the report says, and they’re about seven times as likely as their white and Asian counterparts to live in very low-opportunity neighborhoods.

More than 50 years after housing segregation was made illegal, Black and Latino children are “concentrated in very low opportunity neighborhoods,” said Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Director of the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandies University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

Children in very low-opportunity and low-opportunity neighborhoods are more likely to suffer from asthma, obesity, severe scoliosis and childhood glaucoma, according to the report. Researchers also found children in these neighborhoods show high levels of physiological stress, “putting them at risk for adverse developmental and health outcomes,” the report says.

White, Asian children more likely to be in high-opportunity neighborhoods

White and Asian children are more likely to live in higher-opportunity neighborhoods − even those whose families face similar levels of poverty to poor Black and Latino children, the report found.

Across all U.S. neighborhoods, 67% of both white and Asian children live in higher opportunity neighborhoods, data shows.

Even “among children in poverty,” the report says, the racial disparities are dramatic:

  • Around 80% of poor Black and Latino children live in lower opportunity neighborhoods, compared to around 45% of poor white and Asian children.
  • At the lowest level of the opportunity spectrum, nearly 60% of poor Black and Latino children live in very low-opportunity neighborhoods, compared to only around 19% of poor white children and 24% of poor Asian children.

“We see some very, very stark inequities here,” Acevedo-Garcia said.

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