In a new report, Brandeis University named Bakersfield the worst place for children to grow up in America.
The Child Opportunity Index 2.0 took a look at how neighborhood conditions affect the health and development of children across the United States. The report ranked "neighborhoods by level of child opportunity from very low to very high in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, where two-thirds of children live" and looked at "29 neighborhood conditions - such as proximity to and enrollment in early care and education centers, high school graduation rates, high-skill employment, health insurance coverage, housing vacancy rates, and poverty levels - that matter for children."
Based on a max score of 100, Bakersfield came in dead last with a score of 20, with "fifty-one percent of children [living] in very low-opportunity neighborhoods." The highest-ranked metropolitan area was Madison, WI with a score of 83.
But some in the community think Bakersfield does a good job of providing resources to children and families in need.
"The issues with poverty, it's not a surprise to anybody who lives out here so you know you kind of have to take studies like that with a grain of salt," said Kevin Bartl, the Media Communications Specialist for First 5 Kern, an organization that provides funds to programs that help kids age 0-5 and their families.
"We've put a lot of money toward those types of programs that specifically reach out to kids that are in those low opportunity neighborhoods," Bartl said.
The report also showed that "even in metros with high overall opportunity, the Child Opportunity Scores for black and Hispanic children are substantially lower than for white and Asian/Pacific Islander children, showing a deep racial/ethnic divide in children’s access to neighborhood opportunity."
Bakersfield also ranked dead last for opportunities for white children with a score of 38, just ahead of McAllen, TX at 39. The worst metro area for African-American children was Youngstown OH with a score of 3. For Hispanic children, the worst place to grow up is Fresno, CA with a score of 14 (Bakersfield was 6th from the bottom with a score of 17).
“All children deserve the opportunity to thrive. The Child Opportunity Index shows us that where a child happens to be born can dramatically impact their entire life,” said Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supported the research. “The index shows us where we need to invest if we truly care about equity and justice. We need to look at the policies and systems that have led to these disparities and work to change them so that all children and families are valued equally."