Demographic change amplifying racial inequities in health, education

One-year-old Ka'Lani is so fascinated by a round plastic toy that she doesn't see her mother, Ke'sha Scrivner, walk into the Martha's Table day care in Washington, chanting her name while softly clapping out a beat that Ka'Lani keeps with a few bounces on her bottom.

Whether her children can beat the statistics that show lagging graduation rates for black children is important not just to her family. The success of Ka'Lani and other minority children who will form a new majority is crucial to future U.S. economic competitiveness.

A wave of immigration, the aging of non-Hispanic white women beyond child-bearing years and a new baby boom are diminishing the proportion of children who are white. Already, half of U.S. children younger than 1 are Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American or of mixed races."A lot of people think demographics alone will bring about change and it won't," said Gail Christopher, who heads the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing project on racial equity. "If attitudes and behaviors don't change, demographics will just mean we'll have a majority population that is low-income, improperly educated, disproportionately incarcerated with greater health disparities."

Asian children overall fare better, with 13.5 percent living in poverty, the survey said.

Based on where things stand for nonwhite children today, it's not hard to make some educated guesses about what the future holds for the youngest of America's children who already are a majority of their age group, said Sam Fulwood III, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found that, from 1999 to 2009, 23 percent of black families and 27 percent of Hispanic families experienced long-term unemployment, compared with 11 percent of white families. Pew Research Center, a subsidiary, found that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.

"You are looking at the future workforce of the United States — what we need to be competitive against rival economies such as India and China, and we are not educating the largest, fastest growing percentage of the U.S. workforce, so as a nation we lose competitive advantage," Greenhalgh said.

That compares with 25.8 percent of black children enrolled in full-day preschool and 18.1 percent of white children. But already, Hispanics are one-quarter of students enrolled in public schools.

"I see a gap in educational achievement for San Antonio children versus children in Texas and the nation, and a large percentage of those are minority children and of course, we wanted to change that trajectory," Castro said in an interview.

Sheila Smith, early childhood director at Columbia University's National Center for Children in Poverty, points to years of research that show kindergarteners perform better if they received high-quality early care, and if teachers used specific strategies aimed at developing behavior and language and math skills.

Compounding the issue, experts say, is immigration status. About 4.5 million children of all races born in the U.S. have at least one parent not legally in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center. More than two-thirds of impoverished Latino children are the children of at least one immigrant parent, the center reported.

"They're the future of our labor force. They're the future of our economy," Frey said. "They're the people who white baby boomers are going to have to depend on for their Social Security, for their Medicare and just for a productive economy to keep all of us going in the future."

The Pew Research Center found second-generation Americans, some 20 million U.S.-born children of 20th century immigrants, are better off than their immigrant parents. They have higher incomes, more graduate from college and are homeowners and fewer live in poverty, the study found.

On a recent weekday, 9-month-old Anderson sat on his mother's lap in the waiting room of the clinic at Mary's Center, a community organization in the nation's capital. He had struggled for three days with diarrhea, cold symptoms and vomiting.

Anderson's generation will be the first to fully grow up under the new federal health

The numbers of uninsured children are at a historic low — just 7.5 percent, said Joan Alker, the center's executive director.

"We have the increasing rates of childhood asthma, childhood obesity and these are going to lead to problems later in life, so it's far better to make sure those kids have health insurance so you can address those issues as much as possible now," Alker said.


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