The recently released Data Center Youth Index tells that local children are faring worse than their peers across the state, nation based on a number of socio-economic indicators.

by Anitra D. Brown

It was December 2015. New Orleanians were celebrating the holidays, gearing up for the New Year and preparing for the annual merriment and mayhem of the carnival season. And the Data Center was releasing its New Orleans Youth Index.

The Data Center describes the report as a “statistical snapshot of the wellbeing of New Orleans’ children/youth”. And the picture it paints for the most vulnerable young people living in New Orleans is nothing to celebrate.

The Youth Index is organized in six priorities as defined by YouthShift, a local collaborative dedicated to improving outcomes for children and youth in New Orleans. Those areas are: Health and Wellbeing, Economic Stability, Learning, Space and Place, Safety and Justice and Youth Voice; and in nearly every category children in New Orleans are faring worse than their counterparts throughout the state and across the country.

The Index was written chiefly by Vicki Mack, a senior research fellow at the Data Center. The report is nearly 40 pages and evaluates data from multiple sources. While Mack says the information detailed in the index did not really surprise her, she believes there are others not as aware of the dire conditions and circumstances youth in New Orleans face.

“Often times, children are an afterthought,” she says. “But people are starting to realize that our children are the future of the city so we have to ensure they are as successful as possible.”

Mack says right now the research organization has focused its attention on getting the Youth Index into the hands of more people, particularly those in the position to create “real, impactful solutions to improve the wellbeing of the children of New Orleans.”
Here are just a few highlights from the Index:


Child immunization rates for children ages 19 months to 36 months is New Orleans is 76.4 percent, according to data from the first quarter of 2014. That is only 3.7 points lower that the state rate of 80.1 percent; but it is 13.7 percentage points lower than the state goal of 90 percent, making both the city and the state immunization rates well below the state target.

The infant mortality rate in New Orleans is higher than state and national rates, with 9.3 percent locally compared to 8.7 percent for Louisiana and a national rate of 6 percent. New Orleans also outpaces the state and country in another category—low birth weight. New Orleans had a higher share—12.5 percent—of infants born with low birthweight than Louisiana (10.9 percent) and the country (8 percent).

The rate of births to teen mothers was a mixed bag when compared to state and national numbers, with rate of births to teen mothers in New Orleans at 39 (per 1000 females ages 15-19)—less the state rate of 45, but more that the national rate of 31.


If there is any single category that should give local leaders, policy makers, the education and business communities pause, it is child poverty. The Index reports that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 44 percent of children in New Orleans live in poverty—a number that is almost double the national rate of 21.7 percent and still significantly higher than the state’s 27.9 percent.

Other economic indicators detailed in the index include Kindergarten readiness, high school completion, bachelor’s degree completion and youth unemployment and parental unemployment. In the area of kindergarten readiness, 32 percent of New Orleans children were considered “vulnerable” in at least one of the five domains of performance that measure readiness. Those domains include physical health/well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills and general knowledge. According to the Index, 18 percent of all children in New Orleans were “vulnerable” in two or more of the domains. The report further tells that, in both instances, children in New Orleans are either at the high end or above the national norm.

Kindergarten readiness is a critical to consider, the report explains, because of its role as a predictor of future academic achievement, high school completion and even employment. The national normal rate for being vulnerable in at least one domain is 26 to 32 percent and 13-16 percent in two or more domains.

However, New Orleanians between the ages of 18 to 24 are statistically closer to the rest of the country when it comes to earning high school diplomas. In New Orleans, 13.1 percent of 18 to 24 year olds do not have high school diplomas compared to 13.9 percent for the United States. Across Louisiana, that number is staggering with 19.2 percent of Louisianans between ages 18 and 24 lacking a high school diploma.

Unfortunately, youth unemployment and parental employment represent a return to dismal digits for local youth in contrast with both state and national numbers. A full 20 percent of New Orleanians between the ages of 16 to 24 are unemployed. For the state and nation, those numbers are 16.6 percent and 15.2 percent respectively. Another statistic examined was the percentage of children with at least one working parent. This indicator is vital because as the report explains the financial stability of children is dependent on their parents’ income. Furthermore, secure family income helps to reduce the risk of poverty; and higher family incomes are associated with a number of positive results, such as better health outcomes, academic achievement and continued financial stability as adults. Again, youth in New Orleans lag in this area, with only 80.7 percent with at least one working parent compared to 87.2 percent for the state and 90.4 percent for the country.


In the priority area of learning, the Index compares PARCC English Language Arts and math scores for New Orleans third through eighth grade students with their counterparts statewide. Despite the widespread reforms taking place in New Orleans, which now has the only all-charter school system in the nation, students in Orleans Parish still are not doing as well as others throughout Louisiana. In 2014, 22 percent of local students scored at mastery or above in both ELA and math compared to 26 percent statewide.

In 2015, 26 percent of New Orleans third through eighth graders scored at mastery or above in both subjects, but were still outpaced by students statewide, where 33 percent scored at mastery or above.

Truancy, cohort graduation rate and college enrollment are also examined in the Index. Between 2008 and 2012, the truancy rate among New Orleans public school students significantly outpaced the state’s rate. When it comes to college enrollment, the index looks at the percentage of students who enrolled in a two-year or four-year college in the first fall after high school in 2013 and 2014. The numbers are a mixed bag, with a higher percentage of local students enrolling in community college right after high school graduation when compared to the state numbers, but lagging behind the students across the state when it comes to enrollment in four-year colleges. In 2013, 20.4 percent of New Orleans students enrolled in a two-year college and 34.7 percent enrolled in a four-year college right after high school compared to 18.6 percent and 39.4 percent for the state. In 2014, those numbers were 22 percent (two-year) and 36.8 percent (four year) for New Orleans youth compared to 20.1 percent (two-year) and 38.9 percent (four-year) statewide. Still, what the Index does not examine is completion data, which would help to better determine how many local youth are positioning themselves to actually obtain the social and economic benefits that come with actually earning a college degree.


The report also examined homelessness among local children in Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish, finding that 58 children are homeless without adults and another 162 are homeless with an adult, according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Statewide those numbers are 127 (homeless children without adults) and 733 (homeless children with adults).

One way to put this data in perspective is to note that homeless youth in the two-parish area with no adult presence account for more than 45 percent of all such homeless youth across the state. And homeless youth that are living with at least one adult in the two-parish area account for just over 22 percent of all such homeless youth statewide.


Issues related to safety and justice prove to be another grim zone for children in New Orleans. Based on 2014 homicide data in New Orleans, youth between the ages of 18-24 represented a disproportionate number of homicide victims. There were 150 homicides that year, and while the age group only makes up 10.2 percent of the city’s population, it accounted for 43 (nearly 29 percent) of the murder victims. Children under 18 accounted for 12 (8 percent) of murder victims that year, while comprising 20.4 percent of the total population.

Discipline in schools is also examined in the Index. From 2001 to 2013, the percent of all suspensions that were out-of-school suspensions in New Orleans was nearly double and in some cases more than double than other parishes. And for the same time period, the percent of Black students that were suspended outpaced White and other students two-, three-, four-, and, in some cases, even five-fold. For instance, in 2013, the suspension rates for White and other students are at 4 percent each. But for Black students the number was more than three times as much at 14 percent. With local schools more likely to use out-of-school suspensions than other parishes and with Black students consistently suspended at higher rates than other students, the negative impact of suspensions—which include increased academic disengagement, failure to graduate on time, and higher risk of dropping out—are clearly experienced by Black students in New Orleans more than any others across the state.


The category of Youth Voice is defined as empowering and supporting young people to take part in the decisions and processes that impact their lives. There was no data for this priority.

To read the complete report, visit

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