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17. High-Poverty Neighborhoods

Indicator 16 (Neighborhood Safety) provided parental views of the safety of their neighborhoods, showing major differences in the living situations of children of different racial backgrounds. While the prevalence of poverty in a neighborhood is not the only element that contributes to neighborhood safety and support for young children, it is a powerful indicator. Moreover, addressing conditions at a neighborhood level requires looking beyond individual service strategies to community-building ones.

Several analyses of high poverty or high child vulnerability census tracts have showed that the poorest census tracts also are the most diverse. In an analysis of all census tracts in the United States on ten indicators related to child-raising vulnerability, Village Building and School Readiness showed that tracts with six or more vulnerability factors were primarily populated by people of color (83 percent non-white and/or Hispanic), while those with no vulnerability factors were primarily white, non-Hispanic (83 percent). Moreover, while 1.7 percent of white, non-Hispanics lived in these census tracts, 20 percent of African Americans and 25 percent of Hispanics did. Table 28 provides information from this study on a national level (similar analyses can be done for any state, but require additional work), showing both ethnicity and the ten indicators. Importantly, these census tracts also are home to a disproportionate share of young children (“poor neighborhoods are rich in young children”) and therefore need more, rather than fewer, services and supports for young children.

What Can the Data Tell Us?

Clearly, “place matters” in child development, and is the reason many families make decisions of where to live based upon the quality of public schools. This applies to the 0-5 years, as well as to the 6-17 years, as formal services (child care and preschool) vary by neighborhood and more informal services (library programs, recreation opportunities, child-focused events) vary as well.

In all states, the places where poverty is highest also are the places where children are most vulnerable and where the concentration of children of color is greatest. These neighborhoods require more concerted state and federal level policy attention. As Table 27 shows, based upon the most recent census information, different states have very different proportions of children residing in the highest poverty (40 percent or more of all residents); addressing the needs of these children requires concerted attention. At the same time, all states have significant numbers of children living in poverty areas (20 percent or more) and meeting the needs of those children requires policymaker attention.  Although this data is not further broken down by race, data is available to do so through additional analyses.

Table 27. Percentage of children living in high-poverty census tracts, U.S. and states, 2012