Children, families at center of new Casey Foundation report on Atlanta’s future

By David Pendered

A new report, this one by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, puts children and families at the center of findings that reaffirm I-20 as the dividing line of household wealth in Atlanta.

The Green Island Food Market is one of just a few grocery stores near Ormand Street, in southwest Atlanta. Credit: David Pendered

The Green Island Food Market is one of just a few grocery stores near Ormand Street, in southwest Atlanta. Credit: David Pendered

Social scientists find Atlanta such a popular study area that a number of reports have already documented that I-20 separates wealthy, predominately white neighborhoods in the north, and poorer, predominately non-white neighborhoods in the south. Casey’s report takes that as a starting point.

The Casey study focuses on children and families to frame a call for three recommendations to reduce barriers to advancement up the economic ladder.

Much of Casey’s work in Atlanta is focused on Neighborhood Planning Unit V, which stretches from near Turner Field west to Adair Park. A driving tour of the area Thursday afternoon yielded glimpses of the oddities that exist in the area.

For starters, grocery stores are all but absent. A few shops offer food, but these shops aren’t the big Publix or Walmart groceries common north of I-20. Fresh produce was not on display anywhere along the tour.

There’s not much in the way of job centers. The Schnitzer recycling facility on Adamson Street is a big facility. But it doesn’t need appear to require a great number of workers. Nearby manufacturing plants appear to be shuttered. The region’s manufacturers are closed to the point that the TV series, “Walking Dead,” was filmed on one of the post-apocalypse looking lots.

These six new homes have been built along Ormand Street, just a few doors from unkempt houses. Credit: David Pendered

These six new homes have been built along Ormand Street, just a few doors from unkempt houses. Credit: David Pendered

Residential developers have built new homes, only to have some boarded up. Six two-story homes have been built on Ormond Street. They’re just down from an unkempt house with a sign out front that reads, “Our house wine is Jagermeister,” and around the corner from several similar, two-story homes that are boarded up.

The Casey report makes following observations:

“In 2011, for example, African Americans represented 80 percent of district students but 94 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 97 percent of expulsions.

“Most well- paying jobs require some level of higher education. Yet among Atlantans ages 25 and older, only about half of African Americans and Latinos have some college experience, postsecondary certification or training.

Jagermeister house

This home is a few doors from the new six-story homes, and the sign out front says, “Our house wine is Jagermeister.” Credit: David Pendered

“Most jobs in metro Atlanta are concentrated in the north, particularly those in the higher-paying information, professional, scientific and technical fields. But many south- side households do not have the cars that would help them tap into those opportunities. … But though MARTA has fairly dense coverage within city limits, making it accessible to many low-income workers, it has fewer stops in the northern metro areas where jobs are concentrated.”

According to Kweku Forstall, who leads Casey’s work in Atlanta, these sorts of outcomes are the result of a number of policies and practices that have been implemented in Atlanta over the course of decades.

Casey released a statement in which Forstall cited, “A history of segregation in public housing, zoning and schools, as well as recent redevelopment that has reduced affordable housing options for lower-income families. In addition, lackluster graduation rates among students of color stem from such factors as the wide variance in out-of-school suspensions, particularly between white and black students, as well as the poor quality of learning environments in schools with predominantly black student enrollment.”

Baptist Church

The Great Chapel Baptist Church offers a glimmer of hope in a struggling Atlanta neighborhood. Credit: David Pendered

Casey’s report contained three recommendations for improving the opportunities for success in these neighborhoods. They are:

  1. “Increase investments in low-income communities to support their economic growth by developing and preserving affordable housing; promoting equitable development practices that benefit diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups; and bolstering small businesses and enterprises in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
  2. “Support strategies that prepare young children and youth for success in school and beyond by increasing access to high-quality early child care and education, especially in low-income neighborhoods; harnessing the states quality-rating system to foster learning environments that encourage student attendance and achievement; and distributing public, private and philanthropic resources equitably among schools.

    Metal recycling plant

    The Schnitzer recycling plant appeared busy Thursday afternoon. The plant does not appear to need much labor. Credit: David Pendered

  3. “Pursue strategies to improve employment opportunities for local residents by aligning job-training programs with employers needs in high-growth sectors such as information technology and health care; adopting ban-the-box policies in the private sector so that criminal records arent an automatic barrier to employment; and expanding public transit systems in the northern metro area, where well-paying jobs are concentrated.”

The report concludes with this call to action:

  • “Instead of relying on children to beat the odds, we must act now to change the odds so that all children in Atlanta have the chance to succeed. … The city’s future rests on the shoulders of the more than 80,000 children who call it home. Their story will be Atlanta’s story. How it unfolds depends on what we do today to craft a new and promising future for this generation and the ones to come.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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