Poor, urban kids struggle in school

Is living in a big city hurting you child’s chance at college?

A new study looking at 17,000 first-graders by UCLA and nonprofit Child Trends is among the first to look at how living in urban centers in California affects academic performance in children.

Their findings? Kids in families with similar incomes do better in school when they live further from urban centers such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Many studies in the past explored how family income affected academic performance, but this study leads the way in taking into account the actual cost of living.

Living at the poverty level in San Francisco where rents are sky-high means families have lower levels of “parental investments” — less time and money to spend on extracurricular activities and educational resources like books and internet access for the home.

The official federal poverty level is itself inadequate, Shawn McMahon the acting president and CEO of Wider Opportunities for Women, told California Watch:

“The federal poverty level is an antiquated measure based entirely on the cost of food, first calculated in the 1960s, and it no longer accurately reflects the needs of modern families.”

The federal poverty level calculated by the federal government does not take the varying cost of living into account across the United States. WOW, however, has created its own Economic Security Database that calculates income necessary for economic security based on region.

The 2012 federal poverty guideline for a family of four is just $23,050. Calculated by tripling the cost of food for one year, it ignores that healthy foods can be overpriced in food deserts and how rents vary widely in the United States.

Nearly all of Hunters Point and the Bayview Districts of San Francisco are considered a food desert – defined by the USDA as places more than a mile from a grocery store in an urban setting. Parts of Richmond and Oakland are also considered food deserts, which can negatively affect a child’s ability to learn and grow.

The 2012 UCLA Policy Brief highlights how cost of living influences a child’s well being in ways that a one size fits all poverty line doesn’t. The recession was especially dramatic for millions of Californians living in an expensive state, though they are made all but invisible to the government with current methods of measuring poverty.

Bottom line? It can cost families and additional $11,000 a year to live near a high scoring public school as opposed to their low-scoring counterparts.