How a ‘Parenting Arms Race’ Is Causing Kids to Grow Up Segregated

Jessica Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2016

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New research out of the University of Southern California has found that between 1999 and 2010, income inequality in the United States has increased most among families with children, especially public school families.

The widening income gap in that demographic is the top driver of economic segregation in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, according to the study–in part because wealthier families are flocking to school districts and neighborhoods with more and better educational services, leaving poorer and even middle-income families behind.

“Most parents want to do right by their kids, and one way they can do that is to try to live somewhere with better school options,” says Ann Owens, the study’s author and an associate professor at USC’s sociology department. “But as income inequality has increased, higher-income parents have more resources to live where they want to live, while those with lower incomes have less.”

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And research shows that children from underserved communities struggle to shake off the negative impact of their ZIP codes in other aspects of their lives. They are more likely to get involved in or become victims of crime or violence, and less likely to perform well in school, earn a degree, or make a salary that rivals their more affluent peers.

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Children in segregated environments “miss out on compassion, on truly understanding what the world is like,” says Billy Eddy, a television writer who takes his third-grade son and first-grade daughter to Citizens of the World Charter School, which brings together students of all races and incomes. “My son and daughter have friends whose houses are big and friends whose houses are small. They see the great things in the houses and don’t focus on the material things.”

“In L.A.,” he notes, “that’s a bit rare.”

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To Owens, who authored the USC study released Wednesday, CWC embodies the kind of educational model she recommends based on her findings.

“Policymakers,” she writes, “need to consider new ideas in breaking the link between neighborhood residence and school attendance to thwart the increasing pace of segregation between neighborhoods, schools, and school districts among families with children.”

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