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Report: 'Islands of Disadvantage' In Affluent Northern Virginia

Published on 29th November 2017

Northern Virginia has a reputation for being an affluent region with good quality of life. But a new report finds that within the region there are areas that are really struggling.

Steven Woolf calls them “islands of disadvantage,” floating in a sea of affluence. He directs the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University and wrote the report.

The disadvantages he’s talking about include low education levels, overcrowded housing, lack of health insurance, and more.

Woolf says these differences can affect a person’s lifespan.

“A baby born in one part of northern Virginia is destined to live a on average  that’s 18 years shorter than a baby born the same day on the opposite side of town,” he says.

Woolf says he was surprised when he dug into the census numbers close to where he lives, near Chantilly, to find a neighborhood right across from a country club where a high portion of children are living in poverty, housing is overcrowded, and many people lack health insurance.

“We’re accustomed to areas of poverty looking a certain way,” he says. “The way they might look say in the inner city in D.C. or Baltimore.”

But, Woolf says, suburban poverty is rising across the country.

Woolf is a doctor, but he's most interested in solutions for these communities that aren't about healthcare.

"Like having places where children can play outside and get outdoor physical activity or where you can have access to healthy foods," Woolf explains.

The good thing, he says, is that the recommendations for improving the quality of life for communities dovetails with economic development.

For instance, “Investments in education, which we already recognize are important for our children in the job market, and making our companies more productive,” Woolf says, “are also going to be beneficial health.”

It's a win-win, he says. If we invest in these "islands of disadvantage," not only will health improve, but so will the overall economic well being of the region.