Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Who Cares for the 96?

A 2013 Brookings Institute 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 prevalent in much of the region.

Atlanta boasts communities that are thriving as well as those that are severely 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 overwhelming data 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 very lives have been designated for limitation?

It requires fierce honesty and unwavering compassion and commitment across all sectors of the region to change the trajectory for these kids. Yet we fear to commit because it involves tough conversations about the things that scare us most...place and race and equity and compassion. Perhaps our greatest fear is that we'll come face to face with proof of our apathy and neglect.

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 Brookings did a study.