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Sustaining the Outrage: Revisiting America's Most At-Risk Residents - Our Children

Sustaining the Outrage: Revisiting America's Most At-Risk Residents - Our Children

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Our children shouldn't live this way.

They shouldn't have to play at contaminated abandoned industrial sites because their neighborhoods have no green space. They shouldn't be at risk of dying before their first birthday because the color or their skin makes getting health care difficult. They shouldn't go to schools where there is no learning and where their parents' greatest hope is that they don't join a gang or get attacked.

They shouldn't be well on their way to becoming hardened criminals by age 11, or be forced to drop out of high school because they got pregnant.

Our Children shouldn't live this way. But they do, especially in big cities like Cleveland. And it seems we have grown accustomed to it.

A few years back, Joan Mazzolini and I and a group of Plain Dealer reporters took an exhaustive look at our nation's most at-risk citizens – the half million children who call greater Cleveland home.

We set out to precisely assess the problems children in Cleveland face.

For example, we found that half a million Ohio children live next door to a toxic waste site. We visited the neighborhoods with the most dangerous sites and found youngsters playing in abandoned factories.

We found that nearly 1 million children in Ohio live in what we defined as poor housing, putting them at greater risk for fires, accidents and environmental health hazards such as lead poisoning and asthma.

We found that babies born to teenage mothers are much more likely to be premature, and that those babies had cost Ohio roughly $161 million in five years. We found that in some inner-city neighborhoods infants are dying at rates that rival Third World countries like Guatemala.

And we found that children of color were most in danger.

We used the tools of computer-assisted reporting and lots of shoe leather to uncover hazards and pinpoint actual neighborhoods and people Then we visited those places and told the stories of those children in our five-day series, "Children left behind."

But today, after a city-wide summit, four town hall meetings and dozens of stories, nothing seems to have changed for the better.

Our area continues to rank at the bottom of most health and quality-of-life indicators. In Cleveland, low-birth-weight babies and infant mortality are at an all time high. Nearly fourteen percent of the city's babies are under weight and 14 in a thousand die before their first birthday.

Where is the outrage?

In our city, four in every 10 children live in poverty, according to recently released numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, an invaluable yearly look at income, poverty, family structure, and, for the first time this year, health insurance coverage. More than 58,000 Cleveland children live in homes where no parent works.

  • Poverty and our health are inextricably linked.
  • Crummy housing can equal asthma.
  • Decaying neighborhoods equals no groceries equals no fresh food equals poor diet.
  • Unemployment equals emergency room visits.
  • Hopelessness equals violence equals early death.

But there are reasons for optimism. We are excited that later this month the Minnesota Population Center (www.ipums.org) will release the raw PUMS census data from the 2008 American Community Survey, allowing reporters for the first time to create custom cross tabulations for uninsured residents in their communities using dozens of social, income and housing characteristics.

We are excited about applying the methods of Dr. Anthony Iton of the Alameda County Health Department to examine life expectancy geographically. What a roadmap Iton has given journalists. (See http://blogs.kqed.org/healthyideas/author/iton/). An initial run of the data for Cuyahoga County, home to the city of Cleveland, found that life expectancy ranged from a low of 64 years in a section of the poverty-stricken, inner-city Hough neighborhood to a high of 84 years in Lyndhurst, a wealthy suburb popular with corporate executives.

We are excited to take part in the National Health Journalism Fellowship program, to see first-hand how the California Endowment and USC's Annenberg School of Communication are spending money and planting the journalistic seeds that will benefit our communities for years to come. We're honored to have a seat at the table.

Everyone in journalism knows that times are tough, in our newsrooms, in our neighborhoods, our homes. We need this kind of in-depth reporting now more than ever.

We will close this blog entry with a small contribution of our own, a look at infant mortality and early death in the nation's 3,000 counties.

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