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Family Talk: How a child sees his future might depend on where he lives

When a child imagines his future, his dreams might depend on where he lives.

When a child imagines his future, his dreams might depend on where he lives.

When I think about the future, for some reason I think about my childhood dreams. I imagined I'd be riding to work in a rocket ship like George Jetson. I'd have delicious food available at the touch of a button, and I pictured a fun-filled future doing important work, like maybe being president of the United States. I'm wondering what kids in Oklahoma think about their future.

If you were an Oklahoma kid, what did you think about your future?

That answer depends on where you live and, in particular, five factors economists have found are associated with “strong upward mobility.” In other words, these five factors indicate whether a child's future looks bright — or not. If a kid lives in a place with these five factors, their future is brighter, and if the neighborhood doesn't have these traits, upward mobility is weakened:

•Less segregation by income and race

•Lower levels of income inequality

•Better schools

•Lower rates of violent crime

•A larger share of two parent households.

This information is from a New York Times article discussing a study by two Harvard economists who ranked the best and worst counties in which a kid could live. The article said this about Oklahoma County:

Oklahoma County is very bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It's among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It is relatively worse for poor boys than it is for poor girls. Although bad for poor children, it is above average for higher income children. If you're poor and live in the Oklahoma City area, it's better to be in Kingfisher County than in Seminole County or Oklahoma County.

Oklahoma kids who want to dream, like I did when I was young, have a dream that depends greatly on the quality of neighborhood in which they live. According to the Harvard economists, a child's vision of the future is not so bright if the child's neighborhood has poorer schools, fewer two-parent homes, and more violence, income inequality and segregation. And Oklahoma County, apparently, leads the wrong way. The economists concluded the sooner those kids move out of those neighborhoods, the better. But that's not always easy or possible. What if instead of moving, we worked on improving those neighborhoods?

How do we do that? We have to prioritize kids in Oklahoma, especially poor kids. Oklahomans talk about how “our children are our future.” It's time to practice what we preach. We should declare this next year, 2018, to be a year dedicated to prioritizing children. We could call it "2018: The Year of the Child." We should ask those running for political office in 2018 to tell us, specifically, how they plan to improve the lives of Oklahoma children. At a personal level, we should invest our own time, energy and dollars in nonprofits that serve and advocate for children. We should work on improving the five factors in whatever county we live.

The future begins now for our children. Let's begin with "2018: The Year of the Child!"

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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