A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that children of color and children in immigrant families face significantly higher barriers to success than children from white, non-immigrant families.
About 57 percent of children from immigrant families in Oregon are living in low-income households, for example, while only 40 percent of those in non-immigrant households are.
Similarly, 63 percent of African-American children, 64 percent of Native American and 67 percent of Latino live in low-income households in Oregon (an income of less than $49,000 per year for a family of four). Only 33 percent of white children do.
These findings and others in the report (www.aecf.org) have ramifications that go far beyond the children and their families.
In 1985, Grammy-award winner Whitney Houston sang “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” In a very real sense the children, including children of color and from immigrant families, are Oregon’s future.
They will provide the goods and services, make the discoveries, pay the taxes and fund Social Security for those who came before them.
But many of them are being failed by education and other systems. Children in immigrant families are far less likely to be proficient in reading and math. Many have suffered trauma, including a half million nationally who were separated from their immigrant parents between 2008 and 2013 alone.
The vast majority of these young people — 88 percent — are U.S. citizens. Another 7 percent are legal permanent residents or have other legal status. (Almost 80 percent of their parents are citizens or are otherwise here legally.)
Researchers at the Casey Foundation attribute barriers these children are facing to several factors, including a national history and past policies that have been racist in nature, the suspicion and hostility directed at immigrants and people of color today, a failure to connect minority children and children from immigrant families with opportunities that are available, lack of resources for schools in low-income neighborhoods where many of these children live, and language and cultural barriers.
Failing to provide the tools to narrow the gap between these children and their more privileged peers will harm Oregon and the United States.
This will require a concerted effort at the national, state and local levels to deal with what has become a nationwide issue.
The Casey Foundation offers a variety of suggestions, all of which are worth consideration. These include developing programs and policies to improve opportunities for low-income workers; helping parents in immigrant families become fluent in English; connecting families to services such as child care, food and medical assistance; and making a concerted effort to enroll immigrant and minority students in early childhood education programs. Oregon also should look to other states to see what could be adapted for use here, including California’s system to fund schools with large numbers of English-language learners.
The United States’ greatest resource has been, and will continue to be, its people. Making sure that it embraces the needs of all, so that they can contribute to the best of their ability, is of critical importance.