Using a range of indicators to gauge a child’s potential for future success, a study paints an alarming picture of America’s future, especially for minority children.
According to an Associated Press survey, four in five American adults have experienced near-poverty, joblessness or a reliance on public assistance at some point in their lives. This represents a significant lack of economic stability and security at a time when the nation’s demographics are increasingly becoming majority non-white.
This growing level of hardship — which also shows an expanding rate of economic instability among whites, according to U.S. Census data — could undermine the potential of not just the current generation, but countless generations to come.
Earlier this month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a study looking at the potential of a child’s future success, based on region and racial identity. In almost every region of the nation, black, Hispanic and Native American children face greater obstacles to future success than their white and Asian counterparts, according to the study’s report, “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children.”
Using 12 indicators of future success — whether the child was born at a normal birth weight, if the child lives in a two-parent household, and if the child lives in a household in which at least one person has a high school diploma, among others — a composite score was created as a measure to test if a member of a socioeconomic group will have an easier or more difficult time achieving success as an adult.
“This first-time index shows that many in our next generation, especially kids of color, are off track in many issue areas and in nearly every region of the country,” said Casey Foundation CEO Patrick McCarthy. As the nation is expected to be minority-majority by 2018, this is problematic for the future economic strength of the nation, especially considering the United States already has a shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-capable workers.
Measuring the need
An example of the disparity can be seen in the results. For example, when looking at eighth graders who were at or above grade level in math, the Casey Foundation found that 60 percent of all Asian students were at least at level, while only 14 percent of black students and 21 percent of Hispanic students were. Sixty-nine percent of all white children lived in families with incomes above 200 percent of the poverty level, while only 35 percent of black students’ families were above the poverty level. Seventy-seven percent of all white children lived in two-parent homes, compared to only 37 percent of black students.
In terms of region, black children in the South — which traditionally has the highest density of blacks — and the Midwest received the lowest scores in the study. These areas have ingrained systems of racial discrimination that require extraordinary effort to overcome. Despite this, American Indian children in South Dakota ranked lower, with a scale bottom score of 185 out of a possible 1,000. Hawaii, New Hampshire, Utah and Alaska — all of which have nearly-negligible black populations — had the top scores for black children.
For Hispanics, the highest scores came from the Eastern Seaboard and the Mountain West, while the South and the Southwest offered the lowest scores — with Alabama offering the lowest Latino score. With the children population of Texas and California being more than half Latino, these states’ low ranking represents a lack of outreach to these communities and reflects the disparity new immigrants face. According to the study, only 3 percent of Hispanic eighth graders from immigrant families are proficient in math, compared to 25 percent of Hispanic eighth graders from non-immigrant families. Likewise, 52 percent of Latino children from immigrant families live with someone with a high school diploma, compared to 80 percent of Latino children from non-immigrant families.
The “prosperity grid”
While there is no single race that completely swept or bottomed-out in the study, the study did reflect certain correlations to help explain the levels of disparity. For example, the Casey Foundation found that black, Latino and Hispanic children are more likely to live in high-poverty areas, due to lower household incomes. These children are less likely to have access to social and cultural institutions — such as libraries, museums and community centers — and other resources — such as ready access to healthy foods and community-based health care. Their risk of exposure to environmental toxins and hazards is greater than those in low-poverty areas. Taken together, these factors practically diminish these children’s odds of growing up with the capacity and skills needed to escape poverty.
“Like the power grid that delivers energy to every home within its network, this ‘prosperity grid’ provides critical links that help children succeed,” read the report. “The inability of children of color to connect to this network through their neighborhoods clearly has significant consequences for their healthy development and well-being.”
This denial of access also leaves children in disenfranchised races more likely to be exposed to crime and violence, without a positive role model to emulate. This problem is most acute in the black community, which has the highest single-parent rate among the measured socioeconomic groups. Coupled with high levels of unemployment and a lack of access to socially-empowering resources, this has resulted in black men being the highest socioeconomic classification per capita in the American prison system.
Rethinking targeted help
At the core of the disparity is a lack of racially- or ethnically-targeted enrichment programs to help make up for the resources shortcomings that children of color are more likely to face. While color-blind educational programs — such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core — have raised test scores for minority students, the racial disparity gap remains intact because they equally raised scores for white and Asian students. Worse, federally- or state-funded attempts to improve the living standards of one race at the exclusion of another risk being classified as discriminatory and in violation of anti-discrimination statutes.
The Casey Foundation proposes that racial and ethnic data should be openly disseminated. This information can then be used by not-for-profits and non-governmental organizations to coordinate efforts and programs with populations in the most need. It can also be used to encourage investment in areas that would have the greatest impact on children of color and help communities develop career pathways and jobs to encourage economic inclusion.
“The obstacles that block the path to opportunity for so many children are daunting to confront, but they must be addressed,” the report continued. “As profound demographic shifts, technological advances and changes in global competition race toward us, no individual can afford to ignore the fact that regardless of our own racial background or socioeconomic position, we are inextricably interconnected as a society. We must view all children in America as our own — and as key contributors to our nation’s future.”