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Gap Kids

While the economy rages, a new study shows that the kids are not all right

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

THE VALLEY economy is booming. Almost everywhere you look, someone is building something new: monster houses, offices, condos. Over lunch in campus cafeterias along North First Street and across the cities of Santa Clara and Palo Alto, young dotcommers talk of stock options and Napster downloads and trips to Tahoe on the weekend. Life is good. It's the best of times in Silicon Valley.

So why are the people at Kids In Common so upset? Silicon Valley's "award-winning children's advocacy and resource mobilization organization," with board members who range from Superior Court judges to school superintendents to CEOs, has been keeping score and has issued its annual report card for the valley's children. And once again, as in past years, they believe the status of children is not nearly as good as it should be.

In five key categories, Kids In Common rates the situation of valley children as no more than average, and in one it is perilously close to failing. In the area of Child Care, the group's recently released Silicon Valley Children's Report Card 2000 rated the valley at "D-." In the areas of Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Safety & Security, the area received C's across the board.

The report's narrative paints a dismal picture of a community that is busily rushing into the Internet Millennium while leaving many of its most vulnerable citizens in the dust, or in substandard care.

"As the technology age has made many of our neighbors 'dot.com' millionaires, too many families continue to struggle to make ends meet," the report says. "Over 55,000 children in Santa Clara County live in poverty and many more live in families that, despite the fact they are working hard, do not make enough money to be self-sufficient."

On education: "While most Silicon Valley children are thriving and exceeding educational expectations, some groups are falling perilously behind."

On safety & security: "Many of Silicon Valley's children are being exposed to violence and unstable living environments. ... The number of children witnessing violence remains high. ... Children's access to firearms is also a situation threatening child safety."

On health: While the status of children's health appears to be improving overall, "pockets of the population are experiencing adverse health outcomes. ... Approximately 14 percent of all Santa Clara County children are uninsured."

And on child care, which rated the report's near-failing grade: "Santa Clara County is experiencing a child care crisis. The child population growth coupled with increased demand for child care by working parents ... has significantly outstripped any growth in the licensed child care supply. In addition, the cost of child care has risen dramatically."

The report's breakdown of a Silicon Valley family's monthly budget shows how living in an area with a runaway economy can skewer those at the lower end of the scale. While entry-level jobs in the computer industry hover between $12 and $15 an hour, a single parent must make a minimum of $21.60 per hour, or $45,000 per year, to raise two young children in Santa Clara County. The report says that housing and child care are the two biggest budget crunchers, accounting for 54 percent of a single parent's income.

In school expenditures, the valley outright failed, according to the report. With per-pupil spending at $5,934 a year, the area was some $300 ahead of the state average. However, the valley's per-pupil expenditure was $700 per year lower than the national average.

Still, there were some bright spots. Child support collections increased 92 percent between 1995 and 1999, earning the area a "B" grade. In the public schools, SAT scores and the number of students attending California colleges and universities was good enough to rate a "B-" although the report did note that the trend did not hold nearly as well for African-American or Latino students. Children's immunization rates were high enough and the hospitalization rate for asthma attacks low enough that the area rated "B" in both categories. And mirroring national trends, juvenile arrests for violent crime have been decreasing here, rating another "B."

Kids In Common says it issues the report with the hope it will stir action to solve problems.

"We are struck by the lack of progress in too many areas. ... We hope this Report Card will help mobilize and leverage resources to ensure that every child is connected to a caring adult and has access to a healthy and fair start, quality child care, and safe places to live, learn and play."

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From the June 15-21, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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