The US’s population of children is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, with children of color soon to make up more than 50 percent of all kids nationwide. By about 2040, children and adults of color will become the numerical majority.
But in the US, people of color have long been excluded from opportunity pathways and upward mobility. Discriminatory policies and institutional practices have created deep inequities across social and economic sectors, including education, employment, political representation, health, and the justice system. These inequities have been multiplied by the COVID-19 pandemic, jeopardizing this future generation.
To ensure the social and economic development of the US, the well-being and productivity of the next generation is critical, which means focusing on the challenges facing children of color. We’ve identified three areas where COVID-19-related effects are already hurting young people’s futures. Protecting this generation will depend on rapid and expansive action by stakeholders across policy and nonprofit sectors to narrow the racial and ethnic disparities exacerbated by this pandemic.
Family income loss is affecting children of color
People of color, especially Black and Latino people, are not only more likely to contract COVID-19 and die from it, but they are also disproportionately affected by its economic consequences. Black and Latino adults report high rates of family financial insecurity and hardship. In July, 64 percent of Latino adults, 57 percent of Black adults, and 55 percent of Asian adults who responded to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey said at least one member of their household had lost employment income since March 13. White adults were less affected, with 45 percent reporting that a member of the household had lost employment in the same period.
Food insecurity is also significant for Black and Latino families. In July, 20 percent of Black, 19 percent of Latino, and 8 percent of both white and Asian adults said their household often or sometimes did not have enough food during the previous week.
Losses in income, employment, and food security can have both direct and indirect effects on children. Family instability, such as that produced by sudden unemployment, can negatively affect children’s social-emotional, cognitive, and academic outcomes. And children who experience sustained poverty are more likely to drop out of high school, have irregular employment, and experience poverty as adults.
Many children of color will disproportionately experience learning loss during the pandemic
Children of color have also disproportionately felt the educational effects of the pandemic, as elementary and secondary schools across the country transitioned to virtual learning. About 50 percent of Black and Latino adults and 40 percent of white adults in households with school-enrolled children responded in the Household Pulse Survey that at least one child had class cancelled because of COVID-19.
Many households, especially families of color, face significant challenges to facilitating a learning environment comparable to school. Although most low- and moderate-income families have some form of internet connection, many families are underconnected, with mobile-only access and inconsistent connectivity. Families headed by Latino immigrants (PDF) face an even greater digital divide than other low- and moderate-income families. Discounted internet programs have expanded in response to the pandemic, but they have not reached all students who need them.
As a result, Black and Latino students will disproportionately experience learning loss, compounding the damaging effects of policies that already leave students of color with fewer and lower-quality resources, significantly larger class sizes, less qualified and experienced teachers, and less access to high-quality curricula.
Housing insecurity can lead to long-term negative effects for children
The pandemic has led to housing insecurity for many renters, but Black and Latino renters have been hit especially hard. Thirty-one percent of Black renters and 27 percent of Latino renters reported in July that they had not paid rent or had deferred payment in the previous month, and about half of Black and Latino renters expressed little to no confidence that they could pay the coming month’s rent. For white renters, 15 percent had not paid rent or deferred payment in the past month, and 24 percent expressed little to no confidence about paying August rent.
Housing instability has lasting negative effects on children, who need safe and stable housing. Children experiencing housing instability demonstrate worse academic and social outcomes than their peers, including lower vocabulary skills, grade retention, increased high school dropout rates, and lower adult educational attainment.
How policymakers can support the next generation during the pandemic
Narrowing existing equity gaps is critical to ensuring a path to a more equitable future that promotes shared prosperity. Fortunately, there are policies and programs that point the way forward, both in the short and long term. In addition to the funds made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Congress could consider solutions that address racial disparities in school quality and educational outcomes by reforming the education finance system and giving the federal government greater responsibility for education finance and accountability.
Policymakers can also consider steps to reduce the pandemic’s economic effects, such as increasing protection and pay for essential workers, supporting efforts to stabilize renters, improving access to refinancing for homeowners, and establishing a federal jobs program to get people back to work and prevent extended periods of unemployment for people of color.
Above all, because public and private investments in children during their crucial formative years have far-reaching consequences for families and for America’s future, now is the time to reconsider—and increase—the country’s investment in children.