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In my long career as a policymaker and leader of a nonprofit, few reports have hit me as hard as the KIDS COUNT report out Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children for the first time shines a light on child well-being based on more than age and geography. This report uses an index that looks at the conditions and outcomes — the opportunities for children — based on race/ethnicity.
It’s very clear that African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian children have far fewer opportunities in our country and more barriers to become successful adults than white or Asian children. In Michigan as well, there is a strong race-based pattern, and it’s not pretty.
Opportunities for both Michigan’s white children and African American children fall behind their national peers. Yet the biggest gap by far is the index for the state’s African American children. Michigan’s index is among the lowest in the country.
Of course, as the Kids Count organization and as caring individuals, we are concerned with each and every child. But these findings should also chill us to the bone as we look to our future. Why? Because children of color will be the majority in the United States by 2018. One of every three children in Michigan is a child of color. This is our future workforce, and we are not preparing all of them adequately to be competitive in the national and world economies. Our future prosperity depends on turning this around.
So, what should be done? This is a huge issue, one that is hard to wrap your arms completely around. Yet, we have too much at stake to become overwhelmed.
Delving into the data, Michigan’s African American children are far less likely to live in a low-poverty neighborhood than African American children nationally, and test scores in reading and math are lower than their national peers. Those are good places to start addressing the problems.
The League supports early childhood intervention, including the move by Gov. Snyder and business leaders to expand preschool for 4-year-olds. This is a positive action, yet the state has also cut programs in recent years that address the very, very critical period in a child’s life from zero to age 3. Let’s expand our preschool strategy to offer interventions for children and help for parents in that crucial time after birth.
The League also supports increasing the minimum wage, restoring the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20%, and raising child care subsidies for low-income working parents. These are strategies that will help families and grow stronger neighborhoods that nourish children.
On May 5, at a convening of the Prosperity Coalition, these findings will be discussed and solutions explored. We hope you can join us.
Let’s be clear. The kids aren’t failing. Rather, we are failing these children and dimming our hope of a bright future. Let this be a call to action.
– By Gilda Z. Jacobs