ACS 2015 Reflection: It’s the RIGHT Time to Focus on Children
Glancing through last week’s release of the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) estimates, it’s not unreasonable to believe that DC is improving. These assumptions may have developed as a result of the increase in median family income or the slight decline in child poverty over the last several years. I can’t blame anyone for being excited about these improvements as we should always celebrate the successes, however small.
Because DC Action uses a child- and family-centric lens, we were happy to see that median family income has increased by almost $10,000 over the last year ($68,271 to $79,677). However, we can’t forget that DC continues to struggle with the high inequality – just consider the fact that the District boasts the 2nd highest median household income in the nation while also having one of the highest poverty rates (17.3%). This census release mainly provides high-level data; however, as a result of previously released reports by DC Action for Children (e.g., A Tale of Three Cities, DC KIDS COUNT Ward Snapshots) as well as through the numbers provided in our Data Tool 2.0, it is fair to assume that positive changes and improvements throughout the District are not being shared equally across race/ethnicity nor at the neighborhood and ward-level.
To further accentuate this inequality, it’s key to mention the Gini coefficient. This is a score given to each state where 0.0 is perfect equality in income distribution and 1.0 is total inequality in which one household has all of the income. The U.S. had an overall index of .482 for 2015, which is significantly higher than 2014 (.480). This strongly suggests that income inequality has risen across the county. Though DC showed no statistically significant change from last year, we continue to have a Gini index higher, along with only 5 other states, then that of the United States at .535.
Districtwide, child poverty didn’t shift from 2014. In fact, it has been on a slight downward trend since 2011 (30% to 25.3%). Of course, dividing the District into its five Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMA) that consist of at least 100,000 people and are built on census tracts, we begin to see the emergence of inequality. Child poverty rates range from only 3.1% in the Western region of the District and rise to 45.4% in the Eastern region. We can also disaggregate the data by race/ethnicity where we see that the percentage of black children living at or below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) has increased slightly (37% to 39%) over the past year and the percentage of white, non-Hispanic children living at the FPL has also increased (2% to 3%).
Approximately 1/4th of the population in DC are children under the age of 18, a slight increase from 2014 (20.4% to 22.7%). We know that it’s more important than ever to make sure families who need extra support receive it. With our growing population of children, it’s important that ALL of them have an equal access to the tools they need to learn, grow and thrive. We’re excited about the release of this new data, and despite minor fluctuations, some positive and some negative, this high-level data will most certainly inform our analysis for our upcoming Ward Snapshots, to be released later this year. DC Action has made a commitment to utilize data-informed strategies to promote policies and programs in order to improve life situations and opportunities for our youngest citizens and their families. We will continue to use this valuable Census data as one of the many resources in our toolkit to better understand how our city is faring.