For the first time, a majority of American children under age 2 are now children of color — and 1 in 3 of them is poor, according to a disturbing new report. “The State of America’s Children 2014.” that cites the neglect of children as the top national security threat.
The report, published by the Children’s Defense Fund, calls on President Obama and America’s political leaders “in every party at every level to mount a long overdue, unwavering, and persistent war to prevent and eliminate child poverty.” It also says::
*Every fifth child (16.1 million) is poor, and every tenth child (7.1 million) is extremely poor.
*Children are the poorest age group and the younger they are the poorer they are.
*Every fourth infant, toddler and preschool child (5 million) is poor; 1 in 8 is extremely poor. A majority of our one- and two-year-olds are already children of color.
*In five years children of color who are disproportionately poor, nearly 1 in 3, will be a majority of all children in America and of our future workforce, military and consumers. But millions of them are unready for school, poorly educated and unprepared to face the future. Nearly 60 percent of all our children and more than 80 percent of our Black and nearly 75 percent of our Latino children cannot read or compute at grade level in fourth and eighth grade and so many drop out of school before graduating.
*Seventy-five percent of young people ages 17-24 cannot get into the military because of poor literacy, health or prior incarceration.
Furthermore, the report finds that black children are the poorest, and in six states — Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin, half or more black children are poor. And nearly half of the states have black child poverty rates of 40 percent or more. It also finds that the average wealth of white households was 14 times that of Hispanic households and 17 times that of black households.
And even though quality early childhood education is known to help students grow and learn, fewer than half of 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, it says.
Here are some other education statistics:
The nation’s schools fail to prepare millions of children in greatest need.
*Nearly 60 percent of all fourth and eighth grade public school students and more than 80 percent of Black and almost 75 percent of Hispanic children in these grades could not read or compute at grade level in 2013.
*Only 78 percent of students graduated from public high school in four years in 2010. That rate was 66 percent for Black students, 69 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native students and 71 percent for Hispanic students.
*Over half a million public school students dropped out of grades 9-12 during the 2009-2010 school year. This will cost taxpayers in the future billions of dollars a year in added benefits and services and foregone income tax revenue.
*In only 11 states and the District of Columbia are school districts required by law to offer full-day kindergarten to all eligible students, although 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core State Standards that assume districts are offering a full day of kindergarten.
*Alaska was the only state in the nation to equitably fund education by spending 40 percent more for each student in its poorest school districts than its richest in 2007-2008, the most recent year of data. Thirteen states spent more on students in their richest districts than their poorest districts.
While school reformers keep pushing for more standardized tests and more privatization of public education, the real problems that prevent too many children from succeeding have nothing to do with how many math questions they can answer on a timed test.
Here are some excerpts of the report:
The greatest threat to America’s economic, military and national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure, unique among high income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education and sound development of all of our young.
Early childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity for every child. Much of a child’s brain development occurs during the earliest years of life, setting the stage for future physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.1 In a healthy, safe environment, children receive the supportive and caring relationships they need to set them up for lifelong learning and success. However, 1 in 4 children under age 5 experiences the stressful environment of poverty with unmet physical and emotional needs, leading to developmental delays and other challenges. Income-related achievement gaps show up as early as nine months and often grow larger as children age, increasing the likelihood of intergenerational poverty.
While remembering that children do not come in pieces and that hunger, homelessness, violence, and parental attention all affect childhood well-being, building on best practices and sound research about the crucial importance of early childhood development, the first step to prevent and alleviate indefensible and costly child poverty is to build a quality early childhood continuum of care from birth through age 5 so that every child, regardless of the circumstances of birth or lottery of geography, is ready for school and has a fair chance to reach their God-given potential. We know if we properly support children in their early years of rapid brain development, not only will they benefit, but so will all America. This is not only the just but the smart and cost-effective thing to do. Nobel laureate economist James Heckman estimates a lifelong economic rate of return of 7 to 10 percent each year for every dollar invested in quality early childhood programs. Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke told CDF conference attendees in 2012: “Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return. Notably, a portion of these economic returns accrues to the children themselves and their families, but studies show that the rest of society enjoys the majority of the benefits, reflecting the many contributions that skills and productive workers make to the economy.”