Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Embracing the 96

A recent study, dubbed by the New York Times as “the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States”, reveals that a child born in poverty in Atlanta has only a 4 percent chance of moving into a middle income bracket.  Put simply: 96 of every 100 poor kids in Atlanta today will be poor the rest of their lives.

The study shares some key causes: school quality; social networks; economic and racial segregation. School Quality? Check.  Georgia ranks 48 percent nationally for high school graduation.  Social Capital? Check.  Only 13 percent of the region’s residents exchange favors with their neighbors. Economic and racial segregation? Check.  According to the Pew Institute, both income and residential inequality is on the rise nationally and remains prevalent in much of the region.

Atlanta boasts a continuum of communities from those that are thriving to others that remain under-resourced and marginalized from opportunity. Yet while residents from all these communities walk the same streets, cheer for the same teams, patronize the same businesses, and dart through the same crazy rainstorms, there is a horrific distinction. For those who are poor, we have 96 reasons to conclude that their children will be poor too.

How do we grow our capacity to love and support 96 percent of children for whom achievement has never been a given? Whose lives have been designed for limitation? It will require fierce honesty and unwavering compassion and commitment across all sectors of the region to change the trajectory for these kids.

Committing fully and boldly is scary because it involves tough conversations about place and race and equity and compassion for others’ reality. Yet I believe that if we are willing to try, we may recognize that our greatest fear is the revelation of our neglect.

Just like your kids and mine, children living in poverty are often sad…angry…hurting. This makes perfect sense given the odds against them.  And something tells me they knew it long before someone did a study and documented it for the rest of us.