Why Federal Policymakers Should be Talking About Children
New Census data reveal that almost half of America’s children today are black, Latino, or Asian – very different from the predominantly white population 50 and older.
America’s Children Much More Diverse than Older Generations
Source: 2010 Census data, adapted from William H. Frey
These kids are our future. We need them to grow up healthy, smart, and civically engaged so they can fuel our economy, support us in our old age, buy our homes, and govern our country. But we’re not paying enough attention to the challenges facing minority kids – challenges that undermine their life-chances and our collective future.
Poverty rates are climbing for all kids, but they’re especially high for minority children. As the latest numbers show, almost two of every five black children and more than a third of Latino kids are poor, compared to 12 percent of white kids. The evidence is undeniable that persistent poverty during childhood reduces employment and earnings in adulthood. And my colleague, Harry Holzer, estimates that a 1-percentage point increase in child poverty might cost the economy $28 billion a year in the future.
Black and Latino kids are also much more likely than whites to live in poor neighborhoods, where crime rates are high. A growing body of research shows that children exposed to violence and other severe stresses suffer long-lasting physiological damage that impairs healthy emotional and intellectual development.
Minority children suffer poorer health than their white peers and are less likely to get good medical care. And many public schools aren’t serving minority children well. In school districts across the country, the gaps between white and minority test scores, graduation rates, and college access remain stubbornly high.
It doesn’t take a sophisticated forecasting model to know that today’s kids will be tomorrow’s workers, business owners, and civic leaders. Why aren’t policymakers and political leaders talking about the risks confronting minority children today and the investments in employment, education, health, and neighborhoods that could improve their long-term prospects and our country’s future prosperity?