‘Data in Action’ convenes community leaders

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Photo by Sebastian Medina-Tayac.

Standing by a large window overlooking the sun setting over Elm City and East Rock, data and policy analysts presented data to state legislators, non-profit leaders and community members revealing striking disparities in well-being that are affecting the children and families of Greater New Haven.

The event, called Data for Action, hosted by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven on Thursday afternoon, was organized to promote data-driven policymaking and to provide local nonprofits with information to guide their advocacy and community service efforts. The event was led by data hub DataHaven’s Executive Director Mark Abraham ’04, New Haven Health Department epidemiologist Amanda Durante SPH ’01 and Connecticut Voices for Children policy fellows Edie Joseph ’12 and Orlando Rodriguez.

When distributed along the proper channels, Abraham said, data has tremendous power to better the lives of the people from which it was collected.

“Generally the issues that get talked about more, the ones with the most studies and highest quality data, are the ones that see the most immediate change and action on the legislative level,” he said. “These issues can’t wait 5-10 years for a resolution, they are ballooning right now.”

The presenters focused mostly on issues faced by children living in low-income New Haven neighborhoods, including literacy, health and financial stability.

According to the presentation by CT Voices for Children, one in three children in New Haven are living in poverty, giving the city the second-highest child poverty rate in the state. 43 percent of single-parent families in New Haven are also living in poverty.

Ellen Shemitz ’83, executive director of CT Voices for Children, addressing the room after the presentations, said that investing in early education and children’s futures is not only moral — it is the only sustainable course of action for Connecticut’s aging population, which will one day require a robust workforce and strong economy to support them in their retirement.

“Sharing our knowledge and speaking out makes a huge difference,” she said. “We’ve got this young population, which is a tremendous resource. By investing in their education and helping their working families make ends meet, we are going to benefit in our lifetimes, too.”

Most of the data cited came from DataHaven’s 2013 Community Index, a groundbreaking report that combined census and hospital records with their hyper-local survey data on New Haven neighborhoods and surrounding towns, revealing major disparities in wellbeing between races and income levels.

“Access to high-quality, accessible, actionable data is a dream we have had for a long time,” said William Ginsberg, president and CEO of the Foundation. “The Community Index is a major milestone in this long path to understanding and supporting our community.”

The presentation concluded with general and specific policy recommendations designed to reduce child poverty, including the restoration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, a program that allows low-income families to apply for relatively small tax credits for working which was reduced last year.

New Haven and East Haven State Representative Roland Lamar who was present at the meeting said that data clearly shows that the restoration of the EITC program should be a priority, as its benefits to families and eventually the workforce and economy far outweigh the initial investment.

“When guided by this data, small investments and good policies can yield long term benefits,” he said.

Following the presentations, attendees and presenters mingled over coffee as the sky darkened, comparing plans and experiences and exchanging contact information.

Another goal of the event, Ginsburg said, was to promote synergy and cooperation among groups who might not otherwise work together but whose causes are intimately interconnected.

For example, in Abraham’s presentation, he pointed to the disparities between third graders’ reading levels across income levels. While 50 percent of total third graders in the Greater New Haven region are at or above reading proficiency goals, only 21 percent of third graders in New Haven’s medium-income neighborhoods are at this goal. Meanwhile, 58 percent of high-income students are at or above reading level, and only 17 percent of low-income students are.

Third graders who are not considered at or above reading proficiency are four times less likely to graduate from high school. Abraham said that while improving the quality of schools is important, cross-sector collaboration is necessary to address environmental factors like health and financial stability, which affect student achievement as much or more than quality of schools.

CT Voices for Children took a more direct approach by urging legislators to push bills that would impact the lives of children and families, including one that would decrease the number of student arrests, which have been proven to degrade achievement and trust in schools.

“Community providers working with families every day see the problems, but can now put numbers to the personal stories, which allows them to better advocate for certain issues,” said Joseph , a policy fellow. “These events spark conversations and bring people together into collaborations.”

New Haven has the highest percentage of chronically absent third graders in the region at 15.5 percent.

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