Over 1 Million Children Live in Low-Income Neighborhoods in California

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Nearly 1.2 million California children live in low-income neighborhoods, a number that has decreased in the decade since the Great Recession, but remains troubling, researchers said in a new report.

Research has shown that the type of neighborhood low-income children live in can influence their health. Children who live in low-income neighborhoods are less likely than those in more affluent areas to have access to quality public schools, healthy food, medical care and green spaces to play, said Scot Spencer, associate director for advocacy and influence at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which released the report.

Researchers found, in an analysis of the most recently available U.S. census data, that the percentage of children living in low-income neighborhoods in California is higher than the national average.

Across the United States, 12 percent of children live in neighborhoods where more than 30 percent of households are low-income. In California, the figure is 13 percent.

“It’s shameful that California has such a high poverty rate,” said Ted Lempert, president of the advocacy group Children Now. “Of particular concern in this report is the number of kids in concentrated poverty. What that means is, not only is the kid and family in poverty, but the area in which they live” also has a large percentage of low-income households.

Nationwide, children of color are disproportionately impacted. African American and Native American children are seven times more likely than white children to live in a low-income area, according to the report. Latino children are five times more likely. California and Texas have the highest number of Latino children living in concentrated poverty in the nation.

Partly due to decades of environmental policies that discriminated against low-income neighborhoods, children in these areas also have a greater risk of exposure to environmental hazards such as air pollution and lead.

Growing up in a low-income neighborhood puts children at a disadvantage, making it harder for them to break out of the poverty cycle once they become adults, Spencer explained.

“The issues compound,” Spencer said. “Being in a neighborhood where there’s a breadth of poverty compounds on people who are already living in poverty.”

The rate of California children living in low-income neighborhoods has improved since the Great Recession, when it stood at 15 percent. Close to 1.4 million children lived in low-income neighborhoods in California between 2008-12, according to the report.

But Spencer said the state should do more to help the nearly 1.2 million children still living in low-income neighborhoods. Part of the problem is likely California’s high housing costs, and wages that don’t keep up with the increasing cost of living, he said.

Policymakers must also do more to address racial disparities that stem from historical discrimination and ongoing inequalities, Spencer said.

“We have a history of wealth distributing and wealth denying in the United States by policy, and so people who started out behind the opportunity curve have a higher propensity to stay behind the opportunity curve,” Spencer said. “We need to build a more equitable future in which we expand the range of opportunities, particularly in those neighborhoods and for communities of color.”

The report recommends that governments, businesses and non-profit organizations work together to revitalize low-income neighborhoods. This includes supporting development of affordable housing and home ownership, putting vacant properties to use, changing zoning rules to allow for more apartment buildings, and ending housing discrimination against people with housing vouchers or criminal records.

Additionally, large community institutions such as hospitals and universities should be incentivized to hire and contract locally and from minority-owned businesses, the report states.

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