In the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s new report on The State of America’s Children® 2011, we give a comprehensive overview on the well-being of America’s children. But just who are America’s children and families today? Children make up almost one in four of the people living in the United States today. More than one-quarter of our nation’s children are young—infants, toddlers, or preschoolers. They are the poorest age group in America. And the younger they are the poorer they are—cheating them in the years of greatest brain development. In chapters on child population and family structure we take a closer look, and a national child and family portrait begins to emerge.
One of the most striking facts about America’s children is the rapidly blurring distinction between who is a “minority” child and who is in the “majority.” Today, almost 45 percent of America’s young are children of color, and by 2019—just eight years away—they will be the majority of our child population. In fact, the majority of children are already children of color in the District of Columbia and nine states—Hawaii, New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, and Georgia. Of the 74.5 million children in America, 41.2 million (55.3%) are White, non-Hispanic; 16.8 million (22.5%) are Hispanic; 11.3 million (15.1%) are Black; 3.5 million (4.7%) are Asian/Pacific Islander; and 951,000 (1.3%) are American Indian/Alaska Native. The number of Hispanic children has increased every year since 1980, rising from 5.3 million in 1980 to 17 million in 2009. The number of White children has decreased every year since 1994, and the number of Black children has remained steady over the past two decades.
Behind these numbers and statistics is an urgent call to action. Throughout America’s history and still today, children’s life chances have always been unequal based on color, although God did not make two classes of children and every child is sacred. But practicality will force what morality has been unable to achieve. We can’t afford to keep leaving whole groups of children of color behind who are becoming our nation’s majority without condemning our entire nation to failure. Right now The State of America’s Children 2011 tells us children of color are behind on virtually every measure of child well-being. They face multiple risks that put them in grave danger of entering the pipeline to prison rather than the pipeline to college, productive employment, and successful futures. Children of color are at increased risk of being born at low birth weight and with late or no prenatal care, living in poverty and extreme poverty, lacking family stability, facing greater health risks, lacking a quality education, being stuck in foster care without permanent families, ending up in the juvenile justice system, being caught in the college completion gap, being unemployed, and being killed by guns.
The multiple risks facing children of color are cause for great concern from us all who need to raise a next generation that can care not only for themselves and their own families but also our seniors of tomorrow. While today there are almost twice as many children as seniors, the national snapshot shows that by 2040, that gap will close. There will be 94 million children and 81 million seniors. Our children’s success in education and in employment will be essential to keep our society functioning, businesses running, adults teaching, and health care professionals serving everyone’s needs. Today’s children will care for all of us tomorrow, and we’ll be counting on them as the economic drivers of the future who will be raising their own families, assisting their parents, and investing in the economy and in Social Security to keep us all thriving. We must take extraordinary steps to address the crisis today—so we will have a generation who can succeed in life.
The snapshot of our nation’s families tells us a lot about where our next generation is heading, because family structure and stability make an enormous difference in every child’s life and impact the availability of resources—both emotional and financial—for children. Single parents often need extra support, and teen parents even more. About 70 percent of all children—but fewer than 40 percent of Black children—live with two parents. Twenty-three percent of all children and half of Black children live with their mother only. Black children are more than twice as likely as White children, almost twice as likely as Hispanic children, and three-and-a-half times as likely as Asian/Pacific Islander children to live with neither parent. Teen parenthood also varies widely; the birth rate for Hispanic teens ages 15 – 19 is twice that for White teens but just above that for Black and American Indian teens.
Taken together, all of these numbers paint a clearer picture of what our country’s children—and future—will look like. It’s clear that if we still want to see a strong, prosperous America tomorrow, it’s time to invest in a positive rather than negative future for millions of our children right now. There is not a moment to wait or a child to waste.