Poverty and Barriers to Opportunity in Atlanta

Posted June 24, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
African American school-age children in Atlanta

As Atlanta’s econ­o­my thrives, many res­i­dents of col­or are left behind

ATLANTA — Although the city is con­sid­ered an eco­nom­ic pow­er­house and black mec­ca,” its wealth and promise don’t extend to many of its res­i­dents, par­tic­u­lar­ly those of col­or, who strug­gle to make ends meet, get fam­i­ly-sup­port­ing jobs and access qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion and oth­er key resources. A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Chang­ing the Odds: The Race for Results in Atlanta, high­lights the city’s north-south divide and data show­ing that where chil­dren and fam­i­lies live — often syn­ony­mous with their racial or eth­nic back­ground — can deter­mine their prospects for suc­cess in life.

Atlanta’s racial demo­graph­ics of poverty

In Atlanta, the east-west I‑20 sep­a­rates wealth­i­er, major­i­ty-white com­mu­ni­ties in the north from poor­er, major­i­ty-black com­mu­ni­ties in the south. African Amer­i­can res­i­dents rep­re­sent at least 80% of the pop­u­la­tion in 12 of the 17 NPUs locat­ed along or below I‑20.

Exam­in­ing the racial dis­par­i­ties of pover­ty in Atlanta

The report explores how race and com­mu­ni­ty of res­i­dence cre­ate per­sis­tent bar­ri­ers, result­ing in sharp dif­fer­ences in the edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able to Atlantans of col­or, and to chil­dren and fam­i­lies on the city’s north and south sides. The real­i­ty for black res­i­dents is par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­bling. Among the report’s findings:

  • Eighty per­cent of Atlanta’s African-Amer­i­can chil­dren live in com­mu­ni­ties with high con­cen­tra­tions of pover­ty, com­pared with 6 per­cent of their white peers and 29 per­cent of Asians. Forty-three per­cent of Lati­no kids live in these neigh­bor­hoods, which fre­quent­ly lack access to crit­i­cal resources such as high-per­form­ing schools and qual­i­ty med­ical care. Only five of the city’s neigh­bor­hood plan­ning units (NPUs) along or south of Inter­state 20 have pover­ty rates below 20 per­cent, and four have pover­ty rates high­er than 40 percent.
  • The unem­ploy­ment rate for African Amer­i­cans in Atlanta (22 per­cent) is near­ly twice the city’s over­all 13 per­cent, more than three times high­er than the rate for their white coun­ter­parts (6 per­cent) and more than twice the rate for Lati­nos (9 per­cent). White res­i­dents earn more than three times as much as their black coun­ter­parts, twice as much as Lati­nos and about $30,000 more than Asians in the city.
  • Grad­u­a­tion rates for black and Lati­no stu­dents in Atlanta Pub­lic Schools are 57 per­cent and 53 per­cent, com­pared with 84 per­cent and 94 per­cent, respec­tive­ly, for white and Asian stu­dents. Black and Lati­no stu­dents are more than three times more like­ly to drop out of school.

Atlanta appears to be thriv­ing, but it’s clear that many of its res­i­dents of col­or, espe­cial­ly chil­dren and youth, are being left behind — to everyone’s detri­ment,” said Kweku Forstall, who leads the Foundation’s work in Atlanta, which pri­mar­i­ly focus­es on improv­ing the lives of chil­dren and fam­i­lies in the com­mu­ni­ties of NPU‑V. We must work togeth­er — in the pub­lic, pri­vate and phil­an­thropic sec­tor — to help ensure all chil­dren and fam­i­lies have the chance to real­ize their poten­tial and ful­ly con­tribute to their city and the local economy.”

Chang­ing the Odds details the var­i­ous ele­ments — some root­ed in pub­lic poli­cies and prac­tices estab­lished decades ago — that have led to the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in out­comes and oppor­tu­ni­ty among city res­i­dents. These include a his­to­ry of seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic hous­ing, zon­ing and schools, as well as recent rede­vel­op­ment that has reduced afford­able hous­ing options for low­er-income fam­i­lies. In addi­tion, lack­lus­ter grad­u­a­tion rates among stu­dents of col­or stem from such fac­tors as the wide vari­ance in out-of-school sus­pen­sions, par­tic­u­lar­ly between white and black stu­dents, as well as the poor qual­i­ty of learn­ing envi­ron­ments in schools with pre­dom­i­nant­ly black stu­dent enroll­ment. The report also notes the con­cen­tra­tion of jobs and job growth in the north­ern metro area, which fre­quent­ly puts employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties out of reach for most­ly black res­i­dents liv­ing on Atlanta’s south side, many of whom don’t own a vehicle.

The report offers three rec­om­men­da­tions to address the bar­ri­ers to oppor­tu­ni­ty that many chil­dren and fam­i­lies of col­or, espe­cial­ly on the south side, encounter:

  • Increase invest­ments in low-income com­mu­ni­ties to sup­port their eco­nom­ic growth by devel­op­ing and pre­serv­ing afford­able hous­ing; pro­mot­ing equi­table devel­op­ment prac­tices that ben­e­fit diverse racial, eth­nic and socioe­co­nom­ic groups; and bol­ster­ing small busi­ness­es and enter­pris­es in low-income neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties of color.
  • Sup­port strate­gies that pre­pare young chil­dren and youth for suc­cess in school and beyond by increas­ing access to high-qual­i­ty ear­ly child care and edu­ca­tion, espe­cial­ly in low-income neigh­bor­hoods; har­ness­ing the state’s qual­i­ty-rat­ing sys­tem to fos­ter learn­ing envi­ron­ments that encour­age stu­dent atten­dance and achieve­ment; and dis­trib­ut­ing pub­lic, pri­vate and phil­an­thropic resources equi­tably among schools.
  • Pur­sue strate­gies to improve employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for local res­i­dents by align­ing job-train­ing pro­grams with employ­ers’ needs in high-growth sec­tors such as infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy and health care; adopt­ing ban-the-box poli­cies in the pri­vate sec­tor so that crim­i­nal records aren’t an auto­mat­ic bar­ri­er to employ­ment; and expand­ing pub­lic tran­sit sys­tems in the north­ern metro area, where well-pay­ing jobs are concentrated.

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