East Harlem is a community in crisis. Its current socioeconomic trends threaten to perpetuate cycles of poverty and thereby leave East Harlem's residents in desperation.
- East Harlem ranks among the highest in New York City in terms of infant mortality rate, births to teens under the age of 19, and the percent of 16-19 year olds who are unemployed and do not graduate from high school.
- East Harlem's median income of $16,000 and percent of residents relying on public assistance of 40 percent make it nearly two times worse than Manhattan as a whole in two major socioeconomic indicators.
- The opportunity to become more self-reliant and rise above the poverty line remains limited for many of East Harlem's residents: only 41 percent of adults have graduated from highschool, and 22 percent of residents have less than a 9th grade education.
As families endeavor to cope with the pressures of poverty, their children often face the additional challenge of achieving academic excellence in schools suffering from overcrowding, low expectations, unqualified teachers, and budget cuts. Those children born addicted to drugs must overcome additional psychological hindrances to their academic and social development. Current educational statistics reflect these challenges and highlight the persistence of an achievement gap along socioeconomic and racial lines:
- In 2003 less than forty percent of East Harlem's fourth graders achieved proficiency on the state's English Language Arts exam, compared to over seventy five percent of their counterparts on the Upper East Side.
- The gap between our children and their more affluent peers only widens as each group travels further through the school system, as evidenced by this past year's eight grade Math results. The percentage of students in East Harlem that met the state's standards was nearly three times lower than that of students on the Upper East Side.
- Out of high school students in New York State who entered their freshman year in 1999, only 61 percent of Hispanic children and 65 percent of black children reached their senior year by 2003, compared to 94 percent of their white counterparts (New York Times, March 18, 2004).
The multifaceted and entrenched nature of challenges in East Harlem requires a steadfast commitment to building a more viable community.