WASHINGTON – The success of minority children who will form a new majority in the United States is crucial to future U.S. economic competitiveness.
A wave of immigration, the aging of non-Hispanic white women beyond childbearing 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."
In 2010, 39.4 percent of black children, 34 percent of Hispanic children and 38 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children lived in poverty, defined as an annual income of $22,113 that year for a family of four. That compares with about 18 percent of white, non-Hispanic children, according to the Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey.
Asian children overall fare better, with 13.5 percent living in poverty, the survey said.
The overrepresentation of minority children among the poor is not new. What is new is that minority children will, in the not-too-distant future, form the core of the nation's workforce, and their taxes will be depended upon to keep solvent entitlement programs for the elderly.
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.
Minorities were particularly hard-hit by the recent recession. The Pew Research Center found that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.
That means more minority families end up in poor neighborhoods with underperforming school systems, leading to lower graduation rates and lower lifetime earnings, said Leonard Greenhalgh, a professor of management at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
"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.
It all starts with preschool, where overall enrollment has been increasing but Hispanic children are less likely to be included. Of Hispanic children ages 3 to 5 in the U.S., 13.4 percent were enrolled in full-day public or private nursery school in 2011, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
That compares with 25.8 percent of black children enrolled in full-day preschool and 18.1 percent of white children. But already, one-quarter of students enrolled in public schools are Hispanic children.