Apr 16, 2024 - News

Portland among top cities for childhood opportunity

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

A new analysis of childhood opportunity shows that Portland is a relatively good place to raise children.

Why it matters: Childhood opportunity has a big influence on educational and career progress and life expectancy.

How it works: The Child Opportunity Index, from the diversitydatakids.org project at Brandeis University, seeks to quantify the opportunity afforded to each child based on several factors tied to where they live, including education, health, environment and socioeconomics.

  • The report assigns a score of 1–100 to each census tract, with 1 representing the least childhood opportunity and 100 the most.

Zoom in: The Portland metro area ranks 19th among the 100 largest metro areas, with a median Child Opportunity Score of 68.

  • High opportunity neighborhoods are common in the Northeast and the coastal cities, and also in the great plains.
  • Within those cities, low opportunity neighborhoods are also common.

The big picture: Children's access to neighborhood opportunity differs across racial/ethnic groups, with Hispanic and Black children having more limited access to environments and resources necessary for healthy development.

  • In the Portland metro area, the typical white and Asian child has access to neighborhoods with a Child Opportunity Score of 71 and 78, respectively.
  • The typical Hispanic and Black child has access to neighborhoods with a Child Opportunity Score of 49 and 57, respectively.

Yes, but: Compared to other metro areas, the Portland area's racial/ethnic gaps are relatively small.

Portland metro kids born in the bottom 20% of neighborhoods can expect to live 77 years, while children born in high opportunity neighborhoods (top 20%) can expect to live 82 years.

  • That five-year gap is smaller than in most other U.S. metro areas.

What they're saying: "It's not just lack of income, often schools are under-resourced, which translates into differences in health outcomes," Brandeis senior scientist and report co-author Clemens Noelke, told Axios.

This is the third version of the index, which organizations use to help the right people, Noelke said.

  • The parks and recreation department in Albany, New York, used the index to determine where to renovate playgrounds, and a state program in Massachusetts helped families with children who are eligible for Section 8 housing move to better neighborhoods.
  • "The earlier you move, the better," Noelke said, pointing to a Harvard University study showing kids who moved to higher opportunity neighborhoods before the age of 13 earn on average 31% more than those who stayed behind.
  • "The Childhood Opportunity Index is a game changer for those committed to understanding and improving child and family outcomes," University of Oregon professor of education Leslie Leve told Axios, but added it is less accurate in rapidly changing neighborhoods.

The intrigue: Multnomah County makes its own opportunity map, which it uses to site libraries and health clinics, as does the city of Portland, which it uses to locate where affordable housing is needed.


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