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Children in West Louisville Have Fewer Opportunities, Study Says

Young people living in Louisville's westernmost neighborhoods have fewer opportunities for physical, social and cognitive development than in other parts of the metropolitan area, according to a recent study by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

The study measures relative opportunity across all census tracts in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, said Matt Martin, a senior researcher with the Kirwan Institute, based at Ohio State University.

Researchers examined 19 components that attribute to a child's well being, according to the study. These components include:

  • data for educational proficiency
  • proximity to quality health care
  • volume of nearby toxic release
  • poverty rates
  •  unemployment rates

"Opportunity is multi-dimensional—there's not just one thing you can look at, one thing you fix and everything's better," Martin said.

Martin added it became clear to researchers that opportunity is also "structural."

"It's not coincidence that certain parts of town are high in opportunity and others are not," he said.

Low opportunity areas also tended to have concentrations of people of color and immigrants.

About 70 percent of the residents in West Louisville neighborhoods are African American, according to a 2013 report by Louisville magazine that examined U.S. Census data.

In eastern Louisville neighborhoods, about 4 percent of residents are African American.

The Kirwan Institutestudy found that about 45 percent of African American children in Louisville live in poverty. For Hispanic children, the poverty rate is about 40 percent. For white children, the poverty rate is about half that at 13 percent.

Nearly 60 percent of African American children live in neighborhoods with apoverty rate greater than 20 percent, the study found. About 31 percent of Hispanic children live in such neighborhoods; just 10 percent of white children live in impoverished neighborhoods.

The largest share of Louisville residents 18 or younger are Hispanic (36 percent), the study found. African American children make up 28 percent of the population and white children are 21 percent of the population.

Here is a map that shows opportunity levels in census tracts across Louisville.

So what is opportunity?

This study defines "child neighborhood opportunity as the context of neighborhood-based opportunities that influence children’s health and development."

Family, neighborhoods and schools can advance or hinder a child's development, the study said. A child with limited access to after school programs and quality health care will be less likely to "stay on a healthy development trajectory."

Eddie Woods, director of Louisville's LIFE Hope Center, said it's no secret that western Louisville neighborhoods have less to offer young people than other parts of the metropolitan area.

But, he added, getting young people "taking advantage of the opportunities they have" can sometimes be difficult—regardless of where they live.

He said a "significant number of teens just don't participate" in programs that aim to provide paths to success.

One reason he pointed to is that many programs compete for the same demographic and, more importantly, the programs that are available aren't appealing to young people.

"You got a lot of adults putting together programs that aren't fun for kids," he said. "Sometimes it just needs to be fun, it needs to be entertaining."

Martin, of the Kirwan Institute, said  the study can be used to focus investment in those "low-opportunity areas."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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