Great Neighborhoods Can Break Cycle of Poverty

There is no question that two of the major problems our country is facing today are poverty and education. We can solve both of these pressing issues with smart housing policy. If people on public assistance can use those resources to move out of poor neighborhoods and into areas with great pre-schools and other resources, their children can break out of the cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, discrimination against people on public assistance keeps them away from the very resources that would allow them to work their way out of poverty.

A recent study by the Brookings Institute sought to find the connections between these two issues and concluded that poor children are “less ready for school” than children of higher income families. Tackling this problem requires improving the neighborhoods these children live in. Some ideas include adding home-nursing programs to make up for the lack of care by some mothers; and more access to preschool programs to improve school readiness.

Children born into poverty are merely the subjects of bad luck. We have no choice in where we are born or what resources we have access to, but these are things that have serious impacts on our lives. We already know that there has been a steady increase in children living in high-poverty areas. 1.6 million more children were living in poverty in 2010 than they were in 2000. The situation is even more troubling for African American children, where 23% live in high poverty areas.

There are a number of difficulties associated with raising children in poverty stricken areas, but discrimination should not determine where you live. Right now, Virginians are protected from housing discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. Unfortunately, housing discrimination based on source of income is not protected, so those who make most of their money from social security or other public assistance have no access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Instead, they wind up in high-poverty areas. This creates neighborhoods of highly concentrated poverty and perpetuates cycles of poverty. Our children are suffering because more and more of them have no access to a critical resources such as quality education.

The study from the Brookings Institute shows that, “Poverty remains an important influence on school readiness.” Less than half of children in poverty are ready for school by age five, whereas three-quarters of children in moderate to high income families are ready. This creates a whopping 27 percentage point gap because poverty brings along with it, higher levels of depression, and harsher parenting styles which are not ideal for preparing children for school. There are sources of hope, though. If a child attends preschool, he is 9 percent more likely to be ready for school.

One solution is to improve the neighborhood the child is living in by creating preschool programs to improve school readiness. This way, children in poverty stricken areas can have similar opportunities for working their way out of poverty as other children.

Another way to improve school outcomes for poor children is through housing. Where you live determines what resources you have access to. If someone without much money wanted to live in a neighborhood with great preschools, income discrimination should not force them to live in a high-poverty area where bad education would trap their children in poverty. Housing discrimination based on income, therefore, only perpetuates the placement of children in high poverty areas, setting them back when it comes to their education.

Fair housing laws at the state and federal level should prohibit discrimination based on sources of income. This way, families who depend on public assistance can use those resources to work their way out of poverty. This would be a dramatic shift in Virginia, where poor families are often trapped in neighborhoods of poverty, despite public assistance.

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