5 things a new report says about living, working, and dying in Dallas county
Updated: Aug 30, 2018
By Tristan Hallman, Jill Cowan and Corbett Smith, Dallas Morning News (Source) – April 11, 2018
A new report on life, work and death in Dallas County shows wide disparities in residents’ wealth, health care access, educational opportunities and ability to move around.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities report, commissioned by the Communities Foundation of Texas, was officially released Tuesday. Dave Scullin, the CEO and President of the Communities Foundation said the report that lays bare socioeconomic and racial divisions in the county “doesn’t paint the most positive picture of our community.”
But, Scullin said, the wide-ranging Dallas Economic Opportunity Assessment can prompt discussions about policy priorities for nonprofits, business leaders and public officials.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and other leaders have tried to take bites out of the numerous social and economic issues in recent years. But Rawlings, who believes Dallas has been on the upswing in recent years, said the report presents a “glass half-empty” picture and “continues to heighten” his sense of urgency to get things done.
“What’s happening is, as you see these numbers, we’re all like deer in the headlights with these numbers,” he said. “It’s good that the headlights are shining on us, but we’ve got to take action.”
Here are five takeaways from the report.
1. The kids are poorer
Over the past two decades, levels of economically disadvantaged students in Dallas public schools have risen to 73 percent in 2016 from 29 percent in 1995.
Middle-class schools are increasingly rare in Dallas County. In Dallas ISD, about 88 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. The educational attainment of the county — the highest level of education people complete — is segregated along racial and socioeconomic lines.
Only 16.5 percent of Dallas County students who were in the eighth grade in 2006 have graduated with a degree or received a credential from a Texas college. For Hispanic students, that level of attainment was only 11 percent. And while the number of bilingual students has nearly tripled between 1996 and 2016, the percentage of teachers serving those students hasn’t budged.
Other research — from the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and others — shows that low-income students benefit from attending middle-class schools. And in recent years, the district has launched a handful of specialty schools — such as a girl’s science and math elementary school and an urban design high school — to help integrate schools on income level.
The report recommends connecting educational and business institutions to help workforce readiness. Todd Williams, chairman and CEO of the education non-profit Commit partnership, said such collaborations have worked and can again.
“This isn’t a time where anyone can remain on the sidelines,” Williams said. “This is an economic issue. This is a workforce issue. This is an economic justice issue.”
2. Families here are (mostly) poorer, too
The report highlighted wide disparities in median income among Dallas County residents based on race. While white and Asian households had a median income of roughly $68,800 as of 2015, Hispanic families made a median income of $40,562, and for black families, the number was just $37,476.
Dallas County’s overall median income, adjusted for inflation, decreased by $10,000 between 1999 and 2015, the report found. The middle class has also been shrinking as the gap between rich and poor has widened and deepened entrenched economic and racial segregation in the city.
The economic gap between Dallas’ northern and southern halves isn’t a new challenge for policymakers. Rawlings has spent much of his time as mayor pushing for growth in the city’s southern half. A recent poll by The News found that 81 percent of respondents were concerned about the north-south divide.
A recent study from the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that access to credit is also geographically segregated, which makes it harder for low-income families to break out of cycles of costly debt. Maps of Dallas County’s lower credit scores match up almost perfectly with maps that show where people with lower incomes are mostly concentrated.
That, experts say, isn’t sustainable because it means that the people who can least afford to pay for high-interest payday loans are the most likely to have no other choice.
Economists have said disparities in access to credit — such as home and car loans — are rooted in past government policies that allowed black Americans to be blocked from getting mortgages, which help people to build up wealth by owning property.
Community groups and socially-minded businesses are working to expand access to affordable loans and financial planning education, particularly in southern Dallas.
3. Black residents have higher mortality rates
The report shows that the county still has a high percentage of uninsured adults, but that the rates have declined in recent years as the economy rebounded and the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance options.
Still, outcomes show that black residents have higher mortality rates in Dallas County than other races.
The report lays the blame largely on socioeconomic status. Adults with less than $50,000 in annual household income are uninsured at significantly higher rates.
The group recommended pushing for ways to get people insured. It also supported paid sick leave to help people care for themselves and family members if they fall ill.
4. Poorer residents’ commutes are longer
In total, 43 percent of Dallas County workers spent more than 30 minutes traveling one way to work, according to the report, which is based on Census Bureau data.
Residents in the southern half of Dallas County, as well as many on the northeastern side, have the longest commute times. Northern Dallas residents largely have the shortest trips.
Some of the cause could be economic growth. Cities in Collin County, especially, have aggressively pursued corporate relocations and the wealthy, educated residents they tend to bring with them.
But that growth has also contributed to an uneven job landscape, with many high-paying jobs heading to slick new developments in places that are often difficult to access from the Dallas County neighborhoods where less-educated, lower-wage workers can actually afford to live.
The report recommends pushing Dallas Area Rapid Transit for quicker service, especially for poorer areas. On Monday, DART officials told members of the City Council’s Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee that the system’s bus service overhaul, featuring more buses and a higher-frequency grid-based system, is coming in the months ahead.
City Council members Sandy Greyson and Adam McGough expressed concerns that the overhaul won’t go far enough.
“I still lay in bed at night thinking about how we get people where they need to go,” McGough said.
5. Officials say they’re working on it
Kimberly Williams, CEO of anti-poverty group Interfaith Family Services, said she hopes the report will produce “a real effort to end wage and educational disparities among race in Dallas.” That means applying the resources where they’re needed.” And the Communities Foundation’s Chief Philanthropy Officer, Sarah Cotton Nelson, said she hopes the report will spark a creative conversation about “the interconnectedness of it all.”
City officials are working to finalize a comprehensive housing policy that aims to bring back the city’s middle class and integrate neighborhoods with affordable housing. City Hall also plans to develop transportation and economic development policies this year.
The Mayor’s Poverty Task Force has also tackled some of the issues. The group has pushed for and won City Council approval of programs and funding for English-as-a-Second-Language classes, teen pregnancy prevention and an Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs.
Council member Mark Clayton, a task force co-chair, said he’s happy to have seen a good deal of data about social problems and big ideas to solve them in recent years. But Clayton said he wants to focus on what can actually be accomplished rather than pie-in-the-sky goals.
“What we’ve tried to do is say, ‘Here are these big problems. How do we put them in bite-size pieces?'” Clayton said.
The mayor said he’s also learned how layers of government can work together better and hopes to push to improve coordination between philanthropists, schools, city, county and state government.
“Right now, we are doing God’s work, and we are not well organized,” Rawlings said.
Read the Dallas Economic Opportunity Assessment here.
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