By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite great progress that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement, “a web of stubborn obstacles remains” that prevents children of color, especially Black children, from reaching their full potential, according to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“Differences in opportunity are evident from the earliest years of a child’s life. Too often, children of color grow up in environments where they experience high levels of poverty and violence,” the report stated. “Such circumstances derail healthy development and lead to significant psychological and physiological trauma.”
The report titled, “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” featured the foundation’s new “National Race for Results Index” that tracked 12 key milestones, including fourth grade reading proficiency, birth weight, the share of children who live in two-parent families and the proportion of children living in poverty.
Black children scored a 345 on the new index, the lowest among all children and 359 points lower than their White peers. Asian and Pacific Islander children scored the highest on the index with 776.
Blacks scored below the national average on every Race for Results Index Indicator accept for “children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in nursery school, preschool or kindergarten” and “children who live with a householder who has at least a high school diploma.” Black children scored 63 percent on the preschool/kindergarten measure compared to the national average of 60 percent and tied the national average for children living with a high school graduate at 85 percent.
“For African American children the gap between where they are and where they should be continues to reflect a level of structural inequality that is difficult to eradicate,” said Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Without a focused effort generated both by the private sector and the government we won’t really have a meaningful response to the problems.”
Those problems, some decades old, were often perpetuated and institutionalized by the federal government and deeply rooted in American society.
Following the Great Depression, as the Federal Housing Administration acted to lift White families out of poverty by encouraging home ownership and providing FHA-backed loans, the agency blocked Black families from those same opportunities through a process known as “redlining.”
When Black veterans returned home from World War II, they continued to face discrimination from the federal government that would have lasting negative impacts on homeownership and wealth in the Black community.
“While White veterans used the G.I. Bill to great advantage, discriminatory practices systematized through government structures often prevented non-Whites from accessing G.I. Bill benefits, either for college or to obtain mortgages,” stated the report.
The report explained: “People of color whose valor helped defeat fascism abroad were being denied pillars of the American Dream by racist processes and practices at home.”
The vestiges of structural racism that deprived Black families of the American Dream, continues to plague the Black community today.
Black children scored below their White counterparts in every measure related to family resources and below the national average on three out of four measures related to family resources. Those measures included: delaying childbearing until adulthood, living in a household with a person who has at least a high school diploma, living in a two-parent family and living in a family with income at or above 200 percent of the poverty line.
The report noted that institutional discrimination continues to plague the South, where most Blacks still live. Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina earned the lowest marks for Blacks on the index.
“Obviously demographics are not destiny,” said Henderson. “On the other hand, the demographic trends pointed out in this report are likely to create a reality for the American economy, that without the interventions that we’ve talked, about will reduce us all to something less than what we want as a nation and that’s the motivation I hope will encourage the investments that we need.”
And those investments will become even more important as the labor force becomes more diverse and the nation’s economy becomes more dependent on the contributions of people of color.
According to the Race for Results report, “If the United States had closed the racial achievement gap and African-American and Latino student performance had caught up with white students by 1998, the gross domestic product in 2008 would have been up to $525 billion higher.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation report made a number of recommendations, including collecting more data and using it to develop targeted programs and investments for the children with the most need and expanding programs that have proven track records. The report also recommended connecting communities of color to new jobs and opportunities.
During the panel discussion on the report, Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of Policy Link, said that she hopes the report will get the nation’s attention.
“We know what works,” said Blackwell, “We know how to make [early childhood education] available to all children. What we lack is the political and public will to demand it and to make it so.