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Advocates Fear Recession Could Weaken Gains for Kids

New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram Posted: Dec 16, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- Since 1995, California childrens health and well-being have improved, but researchers warn that the current recession could weaken, and possibly even reverse, some of those gains, says a study out today.

But even though there has been an overall improvement, African American and Latino children havent done as well as their Asian and Caucasian counterparts, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, the researchers note.

This study is going to provide a focal point for dialogue based on fact rather than conjecture, said David Alexander, president of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Lucile Packard Foundation for Childrens Health, which funded the report.

The researchers at Duke Universitys Department of Sociology tracked data, looking at nearly 250 child- and youth-related indicators available through the foundations Web site to see how the children fared over time.

They concluded that overall children fared well in the two most populous regions of the state on which the researchers focused: Los Angeles County, where nearly one-third of the states population lives, and in six of the most heavily populated regions of the San Francisco Bay Area, the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

Lead researcher Kenneth C. Land, who has been coordinating the national Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI) project at Duke University for the last 10 years, said that even though the data analyzed was only through 2006, we made projections through the period of the recession.

Researchers found that between 1995 and 2006, Californias childrens health and well-being improved in five key areas: educational attainment, emotional well-being, family economics, health, and behavioral concerns.

Land said that while it is quite likely that most of the gains will not be lost entirely because of the current recession, it is more than likely to wipe out the economic advancements.

He projected that the percentage of Californias children living in poverty could jump from the 2007 level of 17 percent to a high of 27 percent in 2010. Patterns in projected unemployment trends were used to project child poverty trends to the year 2012.

Given that the family economics domain already was falling in 2006, we have to ask what the long-term effects of the more recent Great Recession will be on Californias kids, said Land. Although its impossible to determine just how much poverty will affect the overall California index, poverty rates are likely to weigh down what, at least until 2006, were general improvements in child well-being.

Researchers found that despite almost identical gains in health and well-being among African Americans (13 percent), Asians (15 percent), Latinos (12 percent) and Caucasians (12 percent), racial and ethnic disparities still remain.

Thats because African-American and Latino children had average well-being levels in 1995 that were lower than those of Caucasian and Asian children, noted Land.

Researchers believe that because the strained housing market will likely worsen the economic situation in California, and by extension adversely impact childrens health, policy makers should put more efforts into programs that address this.

As we make decisions going forward, they should be made with the goal of advancing childrens health, Alexander said.

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