By Kimberly Perry

No matter how hard people try–and they do–it is impossible to explain away racism. Structural racism has been woven into the fabric of the United States from the moment colonizers arrived. We cannot be surprised by the devastation and destruction that racism has wrought. What we can do is have the courage to both speak the truth about racism and change the policies that racism feeds.

Good Data Is a Powerful Tool for Accountability

One critical component of creating racially equitable policies is data. Good data helps us measure progress and focus our energy, to see where we are or are not closing gaps around issues like economic justice, education, and health and safety. It is also a powerful tool for accountability. We cannot simply commit to advancing racial equity, we have to do it and get results.

The new ward snapshots allow residents in each ward to see how their demographic, economic, education, health and safety, early childhood, and voting statistics compare to the rest of the city.

With our new DC Kids Count 2021 website, DC Action provides a valuable tool for community leaders, advocates, and policymakers. DC Kids Count takes the best available District-level and ward-level data measuring child and young adult well-being and makes it easy to understand and use, with the goal of inspiring innovative and equitable solutions. Ward level data clearly show the legacy of redlining, segregation, and systemic underinvestment in communities of color. At the same time, while those geographic disparities persist so does the impact of racism throughout the District. The new ward snapshots allow residents in each ward to see how their demographic, economic, education, health and safety, early childhood, and voting statistics compare to the rest of the city and critically–where data allow–how residents of different races within the ward are faring.

Important Stories That We Cannot Afford to Ignore

The most recent available data about District residents tell important stories that we cannot afford to ignore. For example:

  • District-wide, white families earn nearly four times ($215,719) as much as Black families ($55,301), and well over twice as much as Latinx families ($85,737). Despite modest economic gains made prior to the pandemic, income inequality and high rates of poverty persist for Black and brown families, no matter where they reside in the District of Columbia. Inequality is not just based on geography: within every ward the median income for white families is higher than the median income for Black families in that ward, and poverty is higher for Black residents than for white residents of that ward. For example, in Ward 1 the median income is higher than the median income for the District overall– in Ward 1, the median income for Black families is just $47,000 per year, for Latinx families $73,000 per year, and for white families nearly $207,000 per year.
  • The population of children in the District is growing, but resources are not keeping up. Wards 4, 6, 7, and 8 have experienced annual increases in children under age 5. Meanwhile, there’s not enough infant and toddler care to accommodate the need. Only in areas with much lower child poverty (wards 2 and 3) is supply close to matching potential demand.
  • School counselors are instrumental in helping students to explore opportunities, manage challenges, and plan for the future. Research suggests that Black students were more likely than their white peers to identify the school counselor as the person who had the most influence on their thinking about postsecondary education. Unfortunately there aren’t nearly enough counselors in public schools to work with our students. The recommended ratio is no more than 250 students per counselor. DCPS schools in every ward exceeded that ratio. Across both Ward 6 and Ward 8, only 20 school counselors are responsible for nearly 16,000 DCPS students. There are no counselors in Ward 8 DCPS elementary schools, while there are 8 counselors in Ward 3 and 21 in Ward 4.
  • Instead, the school system invests heavily in police officers and security guards. Students in Ward 5 DCPS schools are policed over twice as heavily as students in Ward 3, with roughly 10 security officers per 1000 students in ward 5 versus (in school year 2018-19) only 5 security officers per 1000 students in Ward 3. DCPS schools in wards 7 and 8 have a heavy police presence as well, but ward 5 schools have the most.

Highlights of DC Kids Count 2021

The DC Kids Count 2021 website includes:

  • Key measures that examine how children, youth and families in the District are doing, using the indicators of demographics, economic justice, education, health and safety, early childhood, voting and democracy, and the impact of COVID-19
  • Ward snapshots that investigate in detail the data across indicators for all eight District wards
  • Resources that go into more depth on a variety of issues to provide context and perspective that help guide policy discussions
  • A link to the Annie E Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center that compiles state by state data for easy comparison with District data, as well as more local data within each state.

While we believe these data are a useful tool for advocating for policy change, they are only as powerful as the people using them to fight for change and the larger movement for equity.

These data demonstrate that racial inequities remain pervasive in the District. While we believe these data are a useful tool for advocating for policy change, they are only as powerful as the people using them to fight for change and the larger movement for equity. At this moment in history we have the opportunity to change lives for the better for generations to come. But we must do the work. Together.

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Kimberly Perry is the Executive Director of DC Action.