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Press Release: Poverty Major Cause of Social Problems In District of Columbia

View the Report Associated with this Press Release

For Immediate Release: Thursday, November 2, 2006
CONTACT: Stacey Rolland
(202) 408-1080

DC’s highest-poverty neighborhoods suffer the highest rates of social problems such as violent crime, teen parenthood, low education achievement and child abuse and neglect, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau and DC government data by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.  The report recommends that DC’s new Mayor and Council adopt a series of strategies to reduce poverty and target services within DC’s poorest neighborhoods.

Disparities in the District: Poverty is Major Cause of Social Problems in the District of Columbia shows a consistently strong correlation between neighborhood poverty and negative social outcomes on a number of indicators.   The findings confirm that poverty — and the concentration of poor families in certain neighborhoods — is a major contributing factor to many of DC’s largest problems.

  • Only 20 percent of students in elementary schools in DC’s poorest neighborhoods score at or above grade level, compared with 60 percent of students in schools in the lowest-poverty neighborhoods.
  • DC’s poorest neighborhoods have a violent crime rate which is six times higher than in its lowest-poverty areas.
  • Nearly half of all substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect come from the poorest fifth of DC neighborhoods.  The rate of substantiated abuse and neglect in these neighborhoods is seven times higher than in low-poverty neighborhoods and twice as high as in moderate-poverty neighborhoods.
  • The poorest fifth of DC neighborhoods accounted for 40 percent of all teen births in 2001, a teen birth rate which was six times higher than in DC’s lowest-poverty neighborhoods.

“The daily experiences of families in DC’s low-income neighborhoods are vastly different from those of families in higher-income areas,” said Stacey Rolland, the report’s author.  “High rates of crime and poor quality schools create tremendous barriers to success for families in DC’s poorest neighborhoods.”

The report concluded that efforts to reduce family poverty in the District and to lessen the concentration of poverty at the neighborhood level should be important policy goals.  A variety of research studies show that efforts to boost the financial circumstances of families and neighborhoods lead to better educational outcomes, reduced crime, and other benefits.

“If our leaders want to tackle DC’s most serious challenges, they should start by tackling poverty.  It is crucial that the Mayor and Council create measurable goals for reducing poverty in the District,” Rolland noted.

The DCFPI report can be found at

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The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute was established in 2001 to engage in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia. DCFPI analyzes local and federal tax and budget policies that concern the District, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.

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