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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Many of America's cities are gaining population, but the number of school-aged children is dwindling as families opt for the suburbs.

Why it matters: A growing body of research shows the strong link between the environment where kids grow up and their ability to thrive as adults. Yet the gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming more pronounced in city centers, driving middle-class families out.

  • Neighborhood divides: Nearly 10 million American kids live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, with limited access to quality schools, parks and healthy food.
  • Child care deserts: About half of Americans live in communities where there are not enough licensed child care workers to meet the demand. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Mobile, Alabama, the child care market can only serve one-third of the total young children. High-income suburban areas are least likely to see shortages, per the Center for American Progress.
  • Housing: In most big cities, there's a shortage of housing options for middle-class families as rents increase.

By the numbers: In 2018, about 12% of children 17 and under lived in the central or principal city of a metropolitan area, down from 14.6% in 2010.

  • The percentage of children 5 and under in central cities dropped from 16% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2018, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey data.

Zooming in: In Boston, the population of school-aged children has dropped by nearly half since 1970, per a report by The Boston Foundation. Even though the city has gained about 46,000 new households in the past 40 years, just 1,000 of them have children.

  • Paul Grogan, CEO of the nonprofit, said in the report that Boston now seems to be split in two: "One of higher-income, less diverse, childless households, and the other of low-income, largely Black and Latino families in which the vast majority of the city's children live."

Government programs that target children yield higher returns on investment than programs geared toward adults, according to research by Harvard University economists Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser, who studied 133 federal and local policy changes.

  • What they found: Direct investments in low-income children's health and education pay for themselves and offer more return for each dollar than many programs for adults.
  • Investment in adult services can pay off "if those policies have positive spillover effects on children," they write.
  • One example: Vouchers allowing families to move out of high-poverty neighborhoods resulted in better environments for children and, eventually, higher earnings and more tax revenue when those children grow up, they noted.

The business case: Some local governments are partnering with the private sector and philanthropies to fill funding gaps for education or health programs, and even financing for parks.

  • "If we don't have more high schoolers graduating who want to stay in Kent County and work in Kent County, we're going to go bust," said Wayman Britt, county administrator of Kent County, Michigan, which includes Grand Rapids.

There's also an effort to increase awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which have been shown to boost earnings for low-wage workers. The Rockefeller Foundation last month announced plans reach 4.6 million people with awareness campaigns so they know how to access the benefit.

What to watch: Children are among the hardest to count in a census, especially those under 5.

  • Ensuring high response rates among families is key for communities to receive millions of dollars in federal and state funding for children-specific programs and services.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

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