Apr 24, 2024 - News

Boston kids face opportunity gaps based on where they live

Data: Brandeis University; Map: Jared Whalen and Alice Feng/Axios

A new analysis illustrates how metro areas like Boston can rank so highly in education while significant childhood opportunity gaps remain within the region.

Why it matters: Childhood opportunity has significant influence throughout a person's life, factoring into educational and career progress, life expectancy and more.

How it works: The Child Opportunity Index 3.0, from the DiversityDataKids.org project at Brandeis University, seeks to quantify opportunity based on factors tied to where a child lives, including education, health, environment and socioeconomics.

  • Based on those factors, the report assigns a score of 1–100 to each census tract.

Boston has one of the highest overall "Opportunity Scores" (86) among the 100 country's biggest metros, joining Bridgeport, Connecticut (88) and San Jose, California (87), based on data from 2021.

Yes, but: There are large scoring gaps within the Boston metro, reflecting internal inequities.

  • Parts of Dorchester, Roxbury and Hyde Park scored "very low," while neighborhoods in nearby Brookline, Newton and Lexington ranked among the highest. Chelsea, Lynn and Framingham also had "low opportunity" spots.
  • Racial chasms prevail nationwide, with Black and Hispanic children typically living in relatively lower-opportunity neighborhoods in comparison with white and Asian children.
  • More than half of children in Boston and San Jose grow up under the best conditions and with the most resources for healthy development, per the report.
  • Yet Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Providence's metro areas were among the 10 metros with the highest concentration of Latino children in low-opportunity neighborhoods.

The report points to the nation's history of exclusionary zoning as a major factor contributing to these inequities seen even within a city.

What they're saying: "These inequities ... are neither natural nor random," Brandeis professor and report author Dolores Acevedo-Garcia said in a statement.

  • "They're driven by systemic inequities such as high segregation and policies that enable opportunity hoarding."

Boston Public Schools uses its own Opportunity Index to identify high concentrations of student need, per the report.

  • It factors elements of a student's neighborhood (e.g. safety, income levels) as well as an individual family's socioeconomic status and attendance rates.
  • The score helps determine which parts of the school system should get extra public or philanthropic funding.

What's next: The researchers recommend several policy measures to improve childhood opportunity, including tackling child poverty, rethinking neighborhood zoning rules with equity in mind, and opening access to better schools for children outside their neighborhoods.

  • The report cited Massachusetts' MBTA Communities Act as a model that stands to boost housing production and access to public transit, but officials in Milton and most recently Marshfield rejected zoning plans to comply with the new law.
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