News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 6, 2014

DIANNE FRANCES D. POWELL: U.S. continues to fail children of color, report finds

TERRE HAUTE — We need to work together to address a “national crisis” silently occurring in our own backyards, affecting our children and our future.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that all children, especially children of color, face many barriers to opportunity and economic success. The report, “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” examined whether children are succeeding in each stage of life, from birth to young adulthood. It serves as a national and state scorecard that compares children’s progress on key milestones in health, education income and family structure, disaggregated by race, ethnicity and by state.

The report shows how well we are positioning our kids for long-term success.  Unfortunately, we are not doing well for many children.

“The data clearly show that while we need to pay attention to the success of all kids, children of color have a steeper mountain to climb,” according to the report.

The KIDS COUNT report released on Tuesday raised serious concerns about the barriers that African-American, Latino, Native-American and some subgroups of Asian and Pacific Islander kids face.

“The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis,” the report stated. African-American children face some of the biggest barriers to success in nearly all states, but the worst are located in the South and the Midwest, according to the report. Indiana ranks eighth worst in the nation for black children and 22nd worst for Latino children.

Barriers that children face include poverty, growing up in violent environments and limited access to quality education and health. Within the Asian subgroups, Japanese, Indian and Filipino children are the most likely to live in families with incomes at or above 200 percent of poverty, according to the report, and African-Americans, Indian Americans and Latino children are more likely to live in poorer communities.

These poor children — many of them in single-earning households, according to experts — have no access to good schools, quality health care, good nutrition and other mechanisms that make prosperity possible. In America, social capital matters in getting ahead. Those who live in good neighborhoods with good schools and with parents who are well-educated, have a better chance.

Reading the report brought back memories of studying this very issue in graduate school. One particular picture in my head is the face of an instructor who said that there are two factors that may explain poverty: individual factors (such as laziness and poor choices) and structural — economic and social — barriers to success.

In his 2009 book, “More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City (Issues of Our Time),” pre-eminent sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that we need to consider both individual/cultural factors as well as structural factors in understanding urban poverty and racial inequality.

While individual factors certainly exist, structural barriers still need to be addressed. Race for Results has identified structural barriers that are deeply embedded in our society.

“American history is littered with an incalculable number of local, state and federal policies — as well as business practices — that set up racial barriers negatively affecting children of color today,” the report stated, citing examples such as the Federal Housing Association’s “redlining” policy, which prohibits banks from providing FHA-backed loans in African-American neighborhoods.

It is often said that the most reliable path to upward social mobility is through education. It is troubling that many children, particularly children of color, also experience barriers to opportunity at school.

In his book, “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America,” educator Jonathan Kozol talks about the segregation occurring in the urban school system. He observed that black and Hispanic students tend to be concentrated in schools where they make up almost the entire student body and criticized the inequitable funding on education among urban areas and the suburbs.

Over the years, those who study poverty and racial disparity have suggested some solutions to aspects of this complex issue: funding schools equally, more equitable treatment by social institutions, and economic development in persistently poor areas.

While the data in the Race for Results may be new, the tragedy in the findings are not. However, perhaps the bigger tragedy is that after all these years, after numerous studies, the political will to implement solutions has not been found.

We need to act.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, children of color will represent the majority of all kids by 2018. More children of color were born in the U.S. than white children in the last year, for the first time, according to Race for Results.

Because of the country-wide demographic shifts — and for moral reasons — it is important for us to pay attention to how well we are setting our children up for future success. After all, the future of our nation and our individual states rests in their tiny hands.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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