Elm City disparities persist

DataHaven
Photo by Jason Kim.

New Haven continues to face severe racial and income disparities in quality of health and educational achievement, according to a comprehensive report released Tuesday by the local nonprofit DataHaven.

The report, titled “Community Index 2013,” covers New Haven proper along with 12 suburbs and draws upon data from a wide variety of sources, including census data, hospital data and DataHaven’s own analyses. The report’s findings show that the inequality New Haven residents face is more dramatic than that of most other American cities. In New Haven, an individual’s race, income level and neighborhood level is a large determinant of his or her overall health and quality of education.

“I think that this information suggests that changes should be made to ensure that our residents have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential, regardless of where they happen to live,” said Mark Abraham ’04, the Executive Director of DataHaven. “The idea is that the report is just a beginning of that story.”

Greater New Haven’s income distribution is more unequal than 82 percent of 366 U.S. metro areas surveyed. The report defines high-income and low-income residents by the relative wealth of their respective neighborhoods. For example, East Rock and Westville were categorized as high-income neighborhoods, and Dixwell and the Hill District were considered low-income. New Haven’s high-income population, if taken as a measure of a city by itself, would have the second-highest overall wellbeing of any city in the country. By contrast, New Haven’s low-income population as a city would be 119th.

School of Public Health lecturer Amanda Durante, one of the researchers for the report, said that health discrepancies between neighborhoods are due to the differences between communities’ access to good health care, healthy food, and exercise. The death rate from diabetes, which is considerably higher in lower-income neighborhoods is a “striking example” of this phenomenon, she said.

The report showed that obesity ranged from 16 percent of high-income individuals to 43 percent of low-income individuals. In low-income neighborhoods, nearly 70 percent of restaurants were fast food establishments, according to the report.

“As a community, we cannot afford to ignore the consequent impact of poverty on our health,” said Alycia Santilli, the chairwoman of the local nonprofit New Haven Food Policy Council. “We must address food and health as part of a larger economic strategy in New Haven.”

The main purpose of the Community Index report, Abraham said, is to “measure progress on various issues of interest.” This information can then be used by residents to “create very specific action plans to improve the outcomes that are measured.”

The Food Policy Council hopes to address the city’s nutritional needs through the Food Action Plan, a plan that draws on a study cited in the Community Index. The plan, which the Board of Aldermen’s Human Services Committee approved last week, features initiatives such as community gardens, increased access to locally grown food, increased food stamp benefits and nutrition education. Abraham said that he hopes the report will inform policy-making at the state level as well.

“We have had conversations with state leaders about how this report can be used,” he said. “Elected officials frequently have made reference to our work in the past.”
The report also showed racial segregation by neighborhood in the New Haven area, with black and Hispanic residents comprising the vast majority of the population in low-income neighborhoods.

“Most school attendance zones are based on these town and neighborhood boundaries, which leads to significant racial segregation by school,” the report stated.
The report shows a 68 percent black/white disparity, a percentage which represents the proportion of one racial group that would need to switch schools in order for the racial makeup of children and families in each school to mirror the racial makeup of all students in the area as a whole. This places New Haven in the top 10 percent of most segregated school systems, according to a 2013 survey by the Harvard School of Public Health.

Third graders’ reading levels vary widely between income groups: 58 percent of children from high-income families were reading at the national standard, while 21 percent of those from medium-income and 17 percent of those from low-income were achieving the same standard, according to the report.

Educational discrepancies persist later in life, the report said. Eighty-four percent of high-income individuals received a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 22 percent of low-income individuals managed to do the same.

On a more optimistic note, recent legislation has had a positive impact on New Haven educational prospects, Abraham said. Governor Dannel Malloy has passed “landmark legislation” which has resulted in increased financial aid focused on new education programming in the 30 lowest-performing districts, said Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management.

The report concludes by suggesting various avenues for change in Greater New Haven, including the prioritization of early learning policies, the facilitation of new affordable housing and the elimination of pollution and toxic infrastructure in historically disadvantaged areas.

DataHaven plans to make presentations to several government agencies over the next few months.

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