[Excerpt] On Jan. 18, DataHaven released the results of the largest community well-being survey of its kind for New Haven and its surrounding suburbs, conducted in fall 2012 by DataHaven and other city philanthropic organizations. The survey, which addressed city issues including community satisfaction, employment, education and health, uncovered unsettling statistics about New Haven youth. In some areas, the situation looked grim: Few New Haven residents consider the city a good place to raise children. But some bright spots in the survey results, such as a high rate of city volunteerism, point to the city’s potential for growth and better youth support.
The survey found significant geographic stratification in how New Haven residents view the city as an environment to raise children. Within the inner city, 31 percent of survey respondents said that New Haven was not a good environment to raise children. By contrast, only 3 percent of people in the outer ring of suburbs, which includes towns such as North Haven, Woodbridge and Orange, said their area was a poor environment for raising children.
Elijah Anderson, a sociology professor at Yale and the author of “Code of the Street,” said that many of the issues plaguing New Haven residents are tied to ripples in the job market across the country: The national workforce has been transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and many jobs that were once located at the heart of the city are being outsourced abroad. The resulting unemployment has far-reaching consequences for city culture, Anderson said, as individuals without meaningful work more often turn to crime.
“The violence and the crime is to an extent a function of structural poverty. The poverty is caused by the absence of jobs, of course,” Anderson said. “Indirectly, good people go wrong when they have nothing to eat and nothing to look forward to. And then they can make life difficult for those around them.“
Youth violence has become a particular problem for New Haven, Ward 10 Alderman and mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said, because there are too few programs to occupy children and teens during after-school hours. Elicker said that existing programming, including activities run through Yale, cannot accommodate the sheer number of students who require its services. Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12, who sits on the Board of Aldermen’s Youth Committee, said that creating more youth jobs — one of her main goals on the board so far — will go a long way in keeping kids off the streets.
“What I have heard most frequently in my conversations with young people in the city include a lack of opportunity in general for youth,” Eidelson said. “There are a lot of fantastic programs in the city addressing these things already, but they’re so stretched — we need more of them, and we need them in more neighborhoods.”
Elicker added that the city does a poor job of coordinating its ongoing youth services initiatives. The Board of Aldermen has a youth services committee, and the mayor created a “youth commission” and a separate “youth violence task force.”
“There are a lot of qualified experts, but they’re not talking to each other,” Elicker said.
The survey found that one of the most striking differences between the city and the suburbs lay in parents’ perceptions of their children’s role models: 76 percent of parents in outer-ring suburbs said that their children had enough positive role models, while 26 percent of New Haven residents said the same.
Anderson considered why New Haven children have so few role models. He said that, one of the most “peculiar” aspects of New Haven’s demographics was its conspicuous lack of a black middle class — African-American doctors, lawyers and businessmen. He added that as more black professionals trickle into other cities, they raise the specter of opportunity for those cities’ youth.
“When a black person walks down the street in New Haven, you can make the assumption that he’s from the ghetto and he’s poor,” said Anderson, the sociology professor. “That has a profound effect on the perception of black people in the city — but it also makes a difference in what black people aspire to.”