Study: Md., Va. Latino kids fare better than peers elsewhere, still face hurdles
Latino children in Maryland and Virginia are faring better than their counterparts in many areas of the country but still face significant hurdles to integration and success, according to a report released Wednesday by the Population Reference Bureau and the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights organization.
The report found that a disproportionate number of Latino children in the United States live in poverty, drop out of school, lack health insurance and end up in the juvenile justice system. Its authors stressed the "urgency" of the situation and recommended swift intervention to reverse the trends.
"This really is an emergency and a critical moment," said Patricia Foxen, La Raza's associate director of research and an author of the study. "You have the kids today who grow up to have all the problems, and a lot of those problems will get passed on to their kids. And, in addition, you have the new kids who will be coming in. It kind of mushrooms."
Latino youths are one of the country's fastest-growing demographic groups: In the past 20 years, the number of Latinos younger than 18 has doubled to 16 million. One-fifth of children in the United States today are Latino, and 92 percent of them are U.S. citizens. By 2035, one-third of all children in the country will be Latino.
The report, "America's Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends," relied on federal sources such as the Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics and the Education Department. Despite a "predominantly hardworking adult population," it found that most Latino children live in poor and low-income families and that many live in neighborhoods that are "socially and economically isolated from more affluent communities."
Latino children make up 22 percent of the total U.S. population younger than 18; they also account for 33 percent of all children living in poverty. If trends continue, that number will rise to 44 percent by 2030, with dire implications, according to the report. Such children "have worse health and educational outcomes, are more likely to live in single-parent homes, and are more likely to experience violent crime, compared to children in more affluent families," the report said.
But although Latino children across the nation fare worse than the general child population on indicators such as poverty and graduation rates, those in Virginia and Maryland do better than their Latino counterparts in other states, the report found.
Maryland and Virginia have among the nation's lowest child poverty gaps, with a difference of less than 10 percentage points between Latinos and whites, compared with a 17-point difference nationally. In some states -- such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- the poverty gap is 25 percentage points or more.
In Maryland, 65 percent of Latino youths graduate from high school on time, compared with 55 percent of Latinos nationally, according to the report, whose database will be updated yearly. In Virginia, the graduation rate is 56.5 percent.
Although the study did not go deeply into reasons for state-to-state differences, the relatively higher success rates in Virginia and Maryland could be attributed to factors including better school systems and greater diversity within the states' Latino community, said Raul Gonzalez, La Raza's director of legislative affairs.
"You have folks who are here for low wages and manual labor, but you also have a lot of folks who come here to work on the Hill, in federal government," and at nongovernmental organizations, he said. Unemployment rates for Latinos -- 4.4 percent in Virginia and 3.7 percent in Maryland -- are much lower than the 12.3 percent rate for Latinos nationwide.
Gonzalez cited a robust system of local organizations that helps immigrants with housing, language classes and job training but added that local school systems are a key factor in the relatively higher success rates for Latinos in Virginia and Maryland.
"There are some school systems in Virginia and Maryland that do a pretty good job targeting Latino kids, especially kids who are English learners," he said, adding that good schooling has had a positive effect in other areas of children's lives. "If you get education right, a lot of other indicators start to fall into place."
Latino children in the District, where schools rank lower, did not fare as well, Gonzalez said. "On some indicators, such as infant mortality and HIV infection, D.C. compares to underdeveloped countries," he said. "D.C. has a long way to go."
Increased investment in early-childhood education, health-care reform and job training could help reverse the nationwide trends, Foxen said.
"We need to invest more resources in community organizations that can help Latino families," she said. "And we have to implement health-care reform in a way that it does not create more barriers for children who are living in mixed-status families."