Tierrabyte: For Many SA Kids, Economic Future May Be Shaped by ‘Social Capital’

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The seahorse group stands in a line near the Boys and Girls Club swimming pool in the city's Westside.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Children stand in a line near the Boys & Girls Clubs swimming pool on the city's West Side.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

Where children live in San Antonio may shape their economic future regardless of whether or not they grew up in poor households, according to the Opportunity Atlas, an interactive online map released last week by U.S. Census Bureau and researchers from Harvard University.

The atlas explored the average annual household incomes in 2015 for people – now in their mid-30s – who grew up as the children of low-income parents. The atlas shows that if you were the child of low-income parents living on San Antonio's North Side, chances are you make a higher income than children of low-income parents in other parts of the city.

Local experts say that's because where a child lives also can determine his or her access to social capital – a network of adult role models and mentors – that can determine a child's economic success.

"Social capital is the access young people have growing up to see opportunities that could help them understand that there are other things outside of their world," said Christina Martinez, vice president of external relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas.

Martinez said a child's access to social capital can depend largely on where they live. "We have kids [in our program] growing up in certain zip codes who have never even been outside [Loop] 1604," she said.

To create the Opportunity Atlas, researchers combined anonymized data from the Census Bureau with federal income tax returns dating back to the late 1980s. Using this data, they estimated the relationship between parental income and children’s economic outcomes for each census tract, and used that relationship to predict outcomes for the children of parents at all income levels.

The map shows that children of poor families – those in the 25th percentile of income earners in San Antonio – growing up in the Government Hill neighborhood near downtown are expected to earn $27,000 annually in their adult households, while children of poor families growing up between Huebner Road and Loop 1604 on the city's North Side are expected to make nearly twice that: an average of $44,000 a year.

In San Antonio, the median annual income for children of middle-income parents is $42,000, compared to $34,000 for children of low-income parents, according to the atlas.

Courtesy / The Opportunity Atlas

Average annual household incomes for children of low-income parents based on where they grew up.

Courtesy / The Opportunity Atlas

Children of low-income parents tend to have higher average annual household incomes if they grew up on the city's North Side than children of low-income parents who grew up in other areas.

Children need exposure to opportunity in addition to having their basic needs met in order to break the cycle of poverty, said Lauren Geraghty, director of strategic impact initiatives at Communities In Schools of San Antonio (CISSA), a nonprofit that places site coordinators in local schools to support at-risk children.

"If your microcosm doesn't expand your possibilities ... then you don't know you can make a career out of whatever your spark might be," she said.

Opportunities like job shadowing or interning, or being surrounded by adults who provide a variety of different perspectives, are key ways for children to improve their mental health, academic performance, and ultimately, their economic outcomes, Geraghty said. Networks of successful, established adults who can provide those opportunities can be lacking in areas where adults are struggling to meet their own basic needs.

The atlas also shows that children who stay in the same census tracts as adults make much less than the median income for San Antonio's population. The average annual income in 2015 for an individual who stayed in the same census tract as an adult was $28,000, compared to the city's median income of $46,744 in 2015.

Sixty-nine percent of San Antonio residents who grew up in the city remain here as adults, and 21 percent stay in the same census tract as adults, according to the atlas.

"When you think about breaking cycles of poverty, it's [about] raising awareness that when children are provided the opportunity to be their best selves, the entire community will be its best self," she said.

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