ICYFP's Child Opportunity Index reveals pervasive racial and ethnic inequities in America’s 100 largest metro areas

March 25, 2015

Boston and Albany, N.Y. are the worst metro areas in America when it comes to providing equitable neighborhood opportunities for the healthy development of Hispanic and black children, respectively, according to the newly developed Child Opportunity Index.

As part of the diversitydatakids.org project, researchers at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity created the index (and accompanying online mapping tools; see the opportunity map for the Milwaukee metro area, below, for an example) to examine a holistic group of socioeconomic, educational, and health indicators, including the presence of a quality early childhood education center, the proximity to parks and healthcare facilities, and the housing foreclosure rate, that can identify which neighborhoods within each of the country’s 100 largest metro areas are the most conducive to healthy child development. The researchers also examined whether children of different ethnic and racial groups within each area have equitable access to these neighborhood opportunities. They detailed the development of the index in an article published in the special Nov. 2014 issue of Health Affairs that focused on "Collaborating for Community Health."

opportunity map for the Milwaukee area

“Previously, studies have looked at neighborhood conditions in one or a few areas. This is the first time data on neighborhood resources that matter for children—and where children of different racial and ethnic groups live in relation to those resources—is available for the 100 largest metro areas,” says lead researcher Dr. Dolores Acevedo-Garcia of the Heller School’s Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy.

Approximately 49 million children—or two-thirds of the population under the age of 18 in the United States—live in these 100 communities.

A major theme that emerges from the research is the high concentration of black and Hispanic children who live in the country’s lowest opportunity neighborhoods. Nationally, 40 percent of black and 32 percent of Hispanic children live in the lowest opportunity neighborhoods within their metro area, compared to just 9 percent of white children.

The index shows considerable variation across America. For example, the proportion of Hispanic children living in very low opportunity neighborhoods ranges from about 10 percent in New Orleans to 57 percent in Boston. In Albany, 60 percent of the area’s black children live in its lowest opportunity neighborhoods, compared to McAllen, Texas, which is the best at 8 percent. The best and worst opportunity metros for white, black, and Hispanic children are listed below.

“Today, nearly half of U.S. children are from racial and ethnic minority groups, compared to only about 15 percent in the mid-1970s,” says Erin Hardy, research director for diversitydatakids.org. “It is critical for our future productivity as a nation that all children have access to neighborhoods with opportunities for healthy development.”

Practitioners in several communities are already using the Child Opportunity Index to better understand and address the extent of development inequity in their areas, including Good Shepherd Services, a multi-service agency that works with nearly 30,000 youth and families in under-resourced New York City neighborhoods, to pediatricians at Boston Medical Center, who combine index and medical record data in collaborating with community groups and residents to better understand connections between neighborhood opportunity and health issues like obesity, hypertension, and asthma.

"We developed opportunity mapping to inform equity conversations in neighborhoods and communities,” says David Norris, senior researcher at the Kirwan Institute. “We're pleased to have partnered with diversitydatakids.org to create the Child Opportunity maps and to see this work being used by both researchers and grassroots advocates across the country."

An interactive rankings table of the 100 metro areas included in the Child Opportunity Index is available at http://bit.ly/COIrankings.

Six Worst Metro Areas for Black Non-Hispanic Children

  1. Albany, N.Y. (60.3% living in lowest opportunity neighborhoods)
  2. Milwaukee, Wis. (60.0%)
  3. Omaha, Neb. (59.7%)
  4. Springfield, Mass. (58.4%)
  5. Youngstown, Ohio (58.2%)
  6. Boston, Mass. (57.8)

Six Best Metro Areas for Black Non-Hispanic Children

  1. McAllen, Texas (7.6% living in lowest opportunity neighborhoods)
  2. Boise, Idaho (9.2%)
  3. Modesto, Calif. (15.0%)
  4. El Paso, Texas (15.5%)
  5. Albuquerque, N.M. (16.3%)
  6. Ogden, Utah (18.0%)

Six Worst Metro Areas for Hispanic Children

  1. Boston, Mass. (57.6%)
  2. Lancaster, Pa. (57.3%)
  3. Providence, R.I. (56.4%)
  4. Allentown, Pa. (51.7%)
  5. Springfield, Mass. (50.4%)
  6. Denver, Colo. (50.0%)

Six Best Metro Areas for Hispanic Children

  1. New Orleans, La. (9.9%)
  2. Baton Rouge, La. (10.3%)
  3. Birmingham, Ala. (11.8%)
  4. Jacksonville, Fla. (12.6%)
  5. Columbia, S.C. (13.2%)
  6. Virginia Beach, Va. (13.5%)

Six Worst Metro Areas for White Non-Hispanic Children

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii (23.0%)
  2. North Port, Fla. (21.0%)
  3. Cape Coral, Fla. (19.6%)
  4. Provo, Utah (18.6%)
  5. Palm Bay, Fla. (18.4%)
  6. Knoxville, Tenn. (17.5%)

Six Best Metro Areas for White Non-Hispanic Children

  1. Chicago, Ill. (2.0%)
  2. Milwaukee, Wis. (2.0%)
  3. Jackson, Miss. (3.5%)
  4. Cleveland, Ohio (3.7%)
  5. Detroit, Mich. (3.8%)
  6. Oxnard, Calif. (3.9%)

Diversitydatakids.org is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

See media coverage of the Child Opportunity Index: