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Report: “Neighborhood Jeopardy” for PA Minority Kids

March 17, 2008

Pittsburgh, PA – Simply being poor -- isn't a simple matter at all. It puts Pennsylvania children at risk in more ways than one, particularly Black and Latino youngsters. A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that children with layers of disadvantage often are thrust into a "prison pipeline" on the way to adulthood.

The study notes that children in low-income families are likely to live in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, substandard housing and limited access to doctors, or even to grocery stores with healthy food choices. Furthermore, poor children of color are those most likely to face those risk factors.

Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund, says the result of multiple layers of disadvantage is often a dead-end route for Pennsylvania kids of color -- and in turn, multiple generations of such disadvantage affect all of society.

"Formation of the 'cradle-to-prison pipeline' gives a black boy who was born in 2001 a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison, and a Latino boy a 1-in-6 chance. I'm always astonished by this. Look at the incredible lag in our children's achievement: 88 percent of black fourth graders can't read at grade level. That's a recipe for social death."

The study concludes that these problems can only be addressed effectively with a comprehensive package of healthcare reform, after-school programs, neighborhood mentors and watchdogs, and the involvement of the business community.

The Harvard study was published in this week's edition of "Health Affairs," a health policy journal. The full report can be viewed online, at www.healthaffairs.org.

Deborah Smith/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - PA