Moving the Needle on Mobility through Medical Care

Categories: Advocacy, health care, Leadership

July 15, 2015 — By Haley Petersen

If you are born poor in Los Angeles, the chances that you will escape systemic poverty are extremely low. Los Angeles is among the top urban areas where children “face the worst odds” at achieving upward social mobility, according to a recent study conducted by Harvard and Berkeley economists, Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez.

A primary factor in influencing one’s ability to move up the socioeconomic ladder is access to quality education. A great deal of research has focused on educational programs, curriculum, and rigor. The caveat here, one that the research tends to overlook, is that no matter how well-designed the curriculum is, it will not matter if the student can’t make it to class. Of students who are chronically absent in LAUSD, 90% are classified as low-income students. This issue compounds itself, because children from lower socioeconomic brackets miss more school, which in turn affects the quality of their education, which further affects the chances that they will have the opportunity to increase their social mobility.

One primary cause of chronic absenteeism is a lack of access to appropriate healthcare services. Elementary aged children in LAUSD miss an average of 6 school days per year due to oral health problems. This number is significant when you consider that 98% of students at Jefferson High School had an oral health problem in need of treating when the school’s Wellness Center first screened the student body. Combine that number with the 6.5 days that students aged 6-17 miss each school year because of unmanaged asthma. These numbers do not take into account the myriad other health and mental health conditions that may keep a student out of school or may inhibit a student from performing to his or her full capacity. Absenteeism further plays out in a financial way. According to L.A. Times reporter, Sara Hayden, “Students missing class puts a strain on the state economy. School districts lose an estimated $1 billion annually of funding because of student absences; an additional $46 billion is lost every year due to reduced earnings, stunted economic growth and juvenile criminal court costs.”

The good news? We can help to break the cycle. While there is no silver bullet for alleviating poverty, The L.A. Trust is working to tackle one very salient factor – access to healthcare for low-income students and their communities. The L.A. Trust partners with low-income middle and high schools to provide on-campus Wellness Centers, which are free for students and open to community members, and provide a wide array of medical services including oral health, mental health, reproductive health, and general medical services. In addition, they conduct a variety of outreach events to provide educational opportunities to both students and families about targeted healthcare issues.
As a former teacher and a concerned citizen, I join with The L.A. Trust in thinking that our kids are worth a greater investment.



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Haley Petersen is a Leadership for Educational Equity Policy and Advocacy Fellow. She was a former middle school teacher (6th grade science) in Charlotte, North Carolina before moving to Los Angeles. This fall, she will begin a graduate program at USC in public policy with a concentration in urban and social policy. This summer, Haley is examining the intersection between wellness policies and education policy for The L.A. Trust.


Student Health = Student Success