Health Commission Study Shows Migration of Local Young Children

By Seth Daniel

It’s no secret that many couples and families start out in Charlestown – enjoying the parks, close proximity to downtown and the tight-knit community – and then leave once children come along, and a new study by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) this month puts that trend into numbers and shows that Charlestown leads the way in Boston for young children leaving the neighborhood – and the children that stay behind in the Town were found to be some of the poorest in the City.

The report, known as the Child Health and Mapping Project (CHAMP) is the second part of a three-part series titled ‘The Health of Boston’s Children.’ The first part released in October 2013 included the results of a survey of 2,100 parents about the health-related issues affecting their children. The third part will be an analysis of children’s health and illness prevalence and their utilization of the health care system based on insurance claims data.

CHAMP relied heavily on data from the 2010 U.S. Census – whittling down info to streets and Census tracts – and combined data from several sources over the years 2008-2012.

“CHAMP confirmed that there is a myriad of social and environmental conditions that influence a child’s health and development,” said Deborah Allen, Director of the Bureau of Child, Adolescent and Family Health at BPHC. “This study helps pinpoint key areas of concern, and  we hope the findings will encourage public dialogue and inform programs and further research to improve health outcomes for Boston children.”

One of the main findings in the study is that the population of children in Boston is very segregated, especially when it comes to older children ages 10 to 17. While few children in that age group lived in more affluent neighborhoods, a vast majority lived in low-income neighborhoods where people of color represented the majority of the population – such as in Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury.

Charlestown fit right into that curve, with statistics showing that most of the Town’s children leave the Town by age 6.

There were 2,685 children counted in Charlestown, with the majority of them (27% and 718) being age 0-2. There were 528 children age 3-5 (20%).

The population began to drop off at age 6 – which is known to be the age when school choices need to be made and many young parents choose to leave for areas with what is perceived to be better schools.

The population ages 6-8 was 431 (16%), ages 9-11 was 361 (13%), ages 12-14 was 347 (13%) and ages 15-17 was 300 (11 percent).

In fact, ages 0-5 made up 47 percent of Charlestown’s child population, while ages 6-17 made up just 54 percent. The study indicated there was a 58 percent difference in the population of children in Charlestown ages 0-2 versus ages 15-17.

That is contrasted significantly with places like East Boston where there are more than 9,000 children ages 0-17 and only a 26 percent different between ages 0-2 and ages 15-17. It is significantly different that North Dorchester where there are more than 20,000 children and 37 percent of them are ages 13-17.

“Some neighborhoods, most notably the Back Bay, Charlestown, and the South End, were home primarily to very young children, while Hyde Park, Roxbury, Mattapan, and North and South Dorchester had higher proportions of older children,” read the report. “Neighborhoods with higher proportions of older children may reflect in-migration of older children from outside of Boston, a lower percentage of families leaving as children reach school age, or both. As subsequent sections indicate, the neighborhoods with higher proportions of older children tend to be those with high proportions of low- income families and families of color.”

Another startling statistic for Charlestown is that the overall population of children in the neighborhood tend to be some of the poorest in all of Boston – despite the fact that Charlestown was cited in the report of having one of the highest median incomes in the city.

“More than a third of children in South Boston, Charlestown, North Dorchester, and Roxbury lived in families with incomes below the Federal Poverty Level,” read the report, noting it used combined data from 2008-2012. “Child poverty rates could not be calculated for Fenway, the Back Bay, or West Roxbury because the low number of families in poverty in these neighborhoods makes statistical analysis unreliable.”

Charlestown children were third in the city for numbers coming from homes below the poverty line.

Some 42.4 percent of Charlestown’s children live below the poverty line, and that was just barely behind South Boston where 43.1 percent were below the poverty line. Roxbury had the highest levels with 49.2 percent – only 7 percent ahead of Charlestown. The average citywide was 27 percent.

Countering that was the average median income in Charlestown, which was listed as significantly higher than the City average of $52,000. That said, a map outlining that statistic showed the neighborhood split in two – the significantly higher incomes on the western side of the town and the incomes at or below the median on the eastern side of the Town.

Charlestown also led the way in families not paying oversized rents compared to their income – which was defined as paying more than 30 percent of income towards rent. Charlestown had the lowest figure in Boston for that area, with only 31 percent of families in the Town paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

Putting it all together, however, shows that the Town is one of the more mysterious and starkly contrasted neighborhoods in all of Boston – with the some of the highest incomes and some of the poorest children; a neighborhood with many young children and dwindling numbers of older children.

One bright spot for Charlestown is that the neighborhood was a leader in providing recreational facilities to children within walking distance of their homes, which includes community centers, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs.

“Access to these community recreational facilities within walking distance of families with children was limited in parts of the city, while these facilities were most widely available in Charlestown, South End, and South Boston.”

That said, Charlestown had less than 5 percent of its total area devoted to open space – one of the lowest proportions in all of the city outside of downtown areas.

Other areas of neighborhood note included:

  • Charlestown is lacking in access to food pantries compared to other neighborhoods, with only one pantry available (Harvest on the Vine) for the entire Town.
  • Charlestown’s children are 52 percent white, 23 percent Latino, 10 percent black, 10 percent Asian and 4 percent two races/other.
  • Charlestown children have a lower likelihood of being raised in a single-parent home, with only 45 percent reported to be raised by a single parent – as opposed to Roxbury where 80 percent of the children come from single-parent homes. The citywide average was 53 percent.
  • Child care slots for pre-school and daycare were some of the lowest numbers proportionally in Charlestown. The highest areas of the city had 77-90 slots available per 100 children, while Charlestown had 48 or fewer slots available per 100 children.
  • Children in Charlestown were affected by air and noise pollution from roadways that had more than 50,000 vehicles per day – an area that basically followed I-93 through the city and up to Charlestown.
  • Behind East Boston, Charlestown and Back Bay children were the most impacted by the effects of Logan Airport.

“All of our children deserve to grow up in an environment that is both healthy and safe,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in conclusion.

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