written by Leslie Kamil, OTR/L, MS, JD
A new snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on building better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States, recently identified Michigan as the worst state in the nation for the percent of African American children living in concentrated poverty, at 50%. It also singles out two important factors that shape a child’s risk of living in concentrated poverty, geographic location and race and ethnicity.
Research shows that poverty affects child development by increasing the risk of a child developing chronic illnesses like asthma and lagging behind in key skills like reading and self-monitoring. Neighborhoods with concentrated poverty are more likely to have underfunded schools and fewer good paying jobs. Families may face the toxic stress of economic insecurity as well as environmental hazards that would never be politically acceptable in more affluent communities.
In 2017, there were 330,000 kids living in high-poverty neighborhoods across Michigan. Unfortunately, kids of all races live in high-poverty neighborhoods, including 6% of white kids. But the burden is felt most by people of color, specifically, 10% of kids who are Asian or Pacific Islander, 12% of kids who are American Indian, 20% of kids who are two or more races, 23% of Hispanic or Latinx kids and a staggering 50% of African American kids experience this reality of underinvestment day to day.
The study, “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health, from the Section on Adolescent Health, Council on Community Pediatrics and Committee on Adolescence,” is published in the August issue of Pediatrics. It provides a historical perspective on the factors that have led to the persistence of racism. It also speaks to how person-to-person, institutional and internalized racism can undermine individual and group mental health. The article states that “(A)although we have progressed toward greater racial equity, racism continues to undermine the health of children, adolescents and families. Children and adolescents experience racism through the places they live and learn, by what they have economically and how their rights are protected.”
This inequality is the direct result of long standing policies that have disproportionately benefited White families and disturbingly limited economic opportunities for people of color, and especially Black families. Such policies include but are not limited to discrimination and segregation, deliberate disinvestment. racially restrictive covenants and stereotypes trying to limit who they can live in certain areas.
We, the people of Michigan, can improve these conditions by following snapshot recommendations. “Lift up positive narratives of kids of color and challenge stereotypes. Commit to being an anti-racist leader and work to further equity in our workplaces, schools and communities. Get involved in advancing the kinds of policies like ending housing discrimination, advancing affordable housing and expanding wealth building opportunities for people of color.”
Refer to the following articles for ways to improve these statistics. The Housing Task Force and TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation) regarding what Michigan cities did to adopt ordinances that prohibit current forms of housing discrimination and alternative ways to develop affordable housing.