A breakdown of D.C.

By Michelle Chen Jul 03, 2009

The Urban Institute and D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates have released a databook on youth in Washington, D.C. It offers an up-close snapshot of intense socioeconomic and racial disparities concentrated in a single urban area, where the vast majority of teens are people of color: Among the findings on demographics and poverty:

Black teenagers were not only more likely to be poor than white teenagers, they were also more likely to be extremely poor. We calculated the share of teenagers who lived in families with incomes less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level and found that almost one-quarter (22 percent) of black teenagers in 2005–06 lived in families that were extremely poor, compared with 8 percent of Hispanic teenagers and 7 percent of white teenagers. …more than two-thirds (69 percent) of black teenagers Districtwide lived in single female-headed households, compared with 31 percent of Hispanic teenagers and 11 percent of non- Hispanic white teenagers.

The report also found that poverty was extremely concentrated in certain areas, which is in turn “related to negative social outcomes such as poor performing schools, higher crime rates, higher child abuse and neglect rates, and higher teen birth rates.” On school:

A greater share of black non-Hispanic children (age 0 to 17) in the District had moderate or severe difficulties with emotions, concentration, behavior, or being able to get along with other people than white non-Hispanic children. 14 percent of District high schoolers reported not going to school because they felt unsafe in school or on their way to school, compared with only 6 percent nationally, and 11 percent of District students were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, compared with only 8 percent of all high school students nationally.

On relationships and violence:

[According to a 2007 federal survey,] 17 percent of District 9th–12th graders were physically hurt (hit, slapped, or something else intentional) by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months before the survey was taken, 7 percentage points higher than the national rate from the same year. Male 9th–12th graders reported slightly more dating violence than females in the District: 18 percent versus 16 percent. The share of dating violence for African Americans was also slightly higher than Hispanics teenagers, 17 percent versus 15 percent.

On health:

With a little over 100,000 youth in the District age 13–24, roughly one in every 100 young people age 13–24 in the District is HIV infected or has full-blown AIDS. The D.C. Department of Health refers to the rates of infection in the District as an epidemic, especially for African American youth. According to available surveillance data for 2001–05, the estimated rate of HIV incidence among teens and young adults has almost doubled in five years. In addition, the rates of HIV infection for young black men in the District who had sex with other men increased 900 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Most of those figures parallel grim statistics and trends aired in the media from time to time. But the report also contains an appendix that profiles several community-based initiatives and positive interventions that are making a difference for the city’s at-risk youth. The D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates has partnered with the media activist organization Critical Exposure to launch STEP Up DC (Success Through Educational Progress), a program that “works to boost graduation rates in the District by empowering young people to share their ideas—through photography, surveys, and advocacy—on why youth drop out and what keeps them in school.” The Metro TeenAIDS initiative melds social media with HIV/AIDS prevention. Together with a group of youth advisers, the group is designing a “community-level intervention designed to change youth’s attitudes about HIV testing; increase their access to and use of HIV testing; and enhance the capacity and expertise of HIV counseling, testing, and referral service providers serving high-risk heterosexual adolescents and young adults of color in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8.” The District of Columbia Primary Care Association’s Adolescent Wellness Initiative works with teens to improve mental and physical wellness through one-on-one counseling. In addition to basic health, the staff and volunteers also focus on personal development, helping youth develop their goals, and tackling social justice issues like racism, poverty, gentrification, school reform, and police-community tensions.” The data in the report paints a bleak picture for youth of color in the District. It’s easy to get absorbed into the antiseptic charts and graphs. The appendix to the Urban Institute’s report may be the most important part: a good indicator that the community members who live with these statistics every day, who try to improve their neighborhoods from the ground up, see more than just numbers: they see themselves. Image: D.C. student protests (commonroman, via Artnet)