Disparities Amid Progress For Five Boroughs' Kids

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It may not come as a surprise to learn that children in the South Bronx have much higher rates of poverty, diabetes and hospitalization for asthma, and many fewer park acres to run around in, than children at the southern end of Staten Island in Tottenville – to cite just one example of unequal conditions for the city's youngest residents.

What's new is that children across the city experienced many improvements in health, economic and educational status during 2006 – yet disparities in health, wealth and opportunity for New York City's young persist between various neighborhoods and ethnicities, according to a new analysis of data by the Citizens' Committee for Children (CCC). The gains were not evenly distributed across geographic and racial lines, with African American and Latino children continuing to lag behind their white and Asian peers, says the report, “Keeping Track of New York City’s Children 2008.” (For the full online database, click here.)

“The good news is most of the statistics across every age range and across every ethnic group show improvement,” CCC executive director Jennifer March-Joly said in a recent interview. “The challenge is, even in areas where the improvement is dramatic among blacks and Latinos, that children for the most part in those racial and ethnic groups still lag significantly far behind white and Asian peers.”

On the plus side, the report says 91 percent of city children had health insurance by the end of 2005, up from 88 percent in 1999, and the number of children enrolled in early education programs increased to by more than 22,000 between 2003 and 2006. Test scores and graduation rates also rose throughout the city.

The report, in its eighth biannual edition since 1993, is a compilation of the latest available New York City government statistics on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. With a print version filling 356 pages, the data book is one of just a few compiled by municipalities, March-Joly said.

Areas of the south Bronx, north and central Brooklyn and parts of western Queens present a much more challenging environment for children than Bay Ridge, Brooklyn or the Bayside, Rego Park and Forest Hills sections of Queens. According to the research, as risks to children's well-being pile up, their effects are compounded: two or three risks increase the chance of a damaging outcome by four, while four or more risks increase the chance of damaging outcomes by 10 times.

One striking example of the differences between neighborhoods is the rate of asthma-related hospitalizations between Mott Haven in the south Bronx and Tottenville. Nearly 10 in every 1,000 children in Mott Haven were hospitalized due to asthma-related complications as of the close of 2006, according to the report. In Tottenville, less than one in 1,000 was hospitalized for similar reasons in the same period.

In Mott Haven, more than 55 percent of children lived in poverty and nearly 43 percent of households earned less than $15,000 per year. Residents are primarily Latino with a significant African American population, and there was one acre of park for every 537 children.

In Tottenville, which had a white population of nearly 90 percent, just over 6 percent of children under 18 lived in poverty and slightly under 4 percent of households earned less than $15,000 annually. The neighborhood had one acre of park for every 27 children.

March-Joly noted Mayor Bloomberg’s PlanNYC goal of having a public park within a 10 minute walk for everybody as a policy that would help ease some of the imbalances between communities. At the same time, with $150 million in budget cuts for children’s programs looming, March-Joly said programs like asthma reduction could be under threat.

Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services, said the city values the CCC findings, even in a time of budget cuts. “All city agencies are doing more with less and by collaborating with groups like CCC, we can be sure our progress will continue,” Gibbs said in a statement.

Indeed, March-Joly says her group views the data book as a tool for evaluating progress that's been made, as well as identifying what still cries out for attention. Improving public education and housing quality, and increasing household income are a few of those areas, she said: “It's a platform to do more and go farther.”

Rising food prices and increases in unemployment are already threatening families, especially African American and Latino families already stretching every last dollar and suffering from higher unemployment rates.

“There’s always a lag in government data,” March-Joly said. “The data really shows progress at a high point in the city’s economy. Most of the data’s from 2006 … where are we going to find ourselves two years from now, when the data will reflect the recession that families are entering or experiencing now?”

– Evan Weinberger

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