Dallas County

It Sucks to Be a Kid in Texas. It Really Sucks If You Live in Dallas.

Every year around this time, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Texas’ flagship progressive think tank, releases a report with lots of statistics and graphics and, you know, facts detailing how much it sucks to be a kid in Texas.

On their measure of childhood well-being that takes into account family income, education, nutrition, access to healthcare, etc., Texas reliably ranks in the 40-somethingth among the 50 states. This year, it’s 41st.

This year’s report was slightly different from previous years. For one, it contained a small nugget of good news amidst all the drear. Thanks to Obamacare and a strong local enrollment push, the number of kids without health coverage is shrinking.

In addition, the report was more granular than in years past, more closely examining race and issuing breakout reports for each of the state’s major metropolitan areas, which, rather predictably, reveals some stark differences. If it sucks to be a kid in Texas, it sucks especially bad if you're a black or Hispanic kid who lives in Dallas.

The child poverty rate in Dallas is staggeringly high: 30 percent overall, 34 and 35 percent for black and Hispanic children, respectively. By contrast, only 14 percent of white kids are poor. The percentage of mothers-to-be who receive late or no prenatal care ranges from high (31 percent for white women) to extremely high (51 percent). More than half of black and Hispanic students attend high-poverty schools and, despite gains in recent years, are less likely to complete high school.

The statistics are all rather bleak, but they were leavened somewhat by yet another divergence from previous years' reports, to wit, the Center for Public Policy Priorities came to Dallas to release it Wednesday morning at a launch party. (The materials referred to it as a briefing, but there were breakfast burritos; it was a party.)

It was a nice touch. Everyone in the room seemed well-practiced in the art of the schmoozy breakfast, but they clearly weren't used to being interrupted by a wonderfully discomfiting piece of performance art. Midway through the breakfast, a dozen teens and 20-somethings, all young artists recruited by the nonprofit Big Thought, filed into the room and dispersed.

They each stood in front of a table like decommissioned robots then, all at once, launched into a dramatic and highly personal narrative about their experience with race, poverty and privilege. At our table, the performer recounted being rejected for a scholarship because he wasn't black enough. As each speech ended, the occupants of the table clapped uncertainly. It was wonderfully awkward.

The performance segued into remarks by Jerry Hawkins, program director for a nonprofit called Bachman Lake Together, who'd been invited to give the perspective of one of the Dallasites engaged in the on-the-ground fight against the social ills documented in the think tank's report. He spoke briefly and was appreciative of the report and the work that went into it. But he also spoke of how in the past such data had been "weaponized" to over-police, close down schools and further marginalize already marginalized communities. Data is important, but it's only good if it's deployed wisely.