As President Donald Trump has given Congress a year-end timetable to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies or phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a new study suggests state and federal policymakers should instead make additional investments in programs that provide better opportunities for children in immigrant families to succeed.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation on Tuesday (Oct. 24) released its 2017 “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children” report, outlining persistent challenges in child well-being that hinder the success of children of color and kids living in immigrant families.
According to the report, children in immigrant families in Arkansas are more likely to live in or near poverty than most of their peers in other states, an indicator that underscores the importance of federal and state investments in programs that provide all children the opportunities they need to succeed.
The report, which includes data on all 50 states, shows that more than 80,000 children in Arkansas have one or more parents who were born abroad or are immigrants. More than two-thirds of those children – 69% – are growing up in low-income families, or those whose incomes are not higher than $40,320 for a family of three.
By comparison, 52% of Arkansas children whose parents were both born in the United States live in low-income families. The racial and ethnic disparity in family income shows 76% of Arkansas’s Hispanic children living in low-income families, compared to 44% of non-Hispanic white children.
The latest Race for Results report concludes children in immigrant families face particular and significant challenges, though they’re doing better than their peers in non-immigrant families in some areas. Following are a few key numbers about children in Arkansas.
• Children learning English are half as likely as their peers to read on time, by fourth grade, with just 16% achieving that milestone compared to 33% for children who grow up speaking English in the home.
• Just 49% of 3- to 5-year-olds in immigrant families are enrolled in preschool, compared to 61% of children in U.S.-born families. Quality pre-kindergarten programs can make all the difference in preparing children to succeed in school, especially those who may not speak English at home.
• Foreign-born young adults from 19-26 are more likely to be working or in school (84%) than their U.S.-born counterparts (79%). Young adults in immigrant families are less likely to have an associate’s or higher degree (23%) compared to young adults in U.S.-born families (30%).
• Children in immigrant families are much more likely to live in two-parent families (84%) than children whose parents were born in the U.S. (62%).
“This should serve as a wake-up call for community leaders, elected officials and policy makers statewide,” said Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF). “This shows how much work we have to do. For Arkansas to reach its full economic potential, we have to close that enormous gap before it widens in another generation.”
The new report is the Casey’s Foundation second edition of the Race for Results series, first released in 2014. The first study, called “Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” suggested the odds are stacked against many children of color, who, along with their families, disproportionately lack those resources. The report also said by 2018, children of color would represent most children in the U.S.
A key piece of the earlier study was the unveiling of the Race for Results index, which compares how children are progressing on key milestones across ethnic groups at the national and state level. The index is based on 12 key indicators that measure a child’s success for each stage of life, grouped into four areas: early childhood, education and early work, family supports, and neighborhood context. The index calculates a single composite score for each group placed on a scale of one (lowest) to 1,000 (highest).
Overall, the index showed at the national level, no racial group has all children meeting all milestones. Across the U.S., Asian and Pacific Islander children had the highest index score at 776, followed by non-Hispanic White children at 704. Scores for Hispanic (404), American Indian (387) and African-American children (345) were lower, which held true in nearly every state.
“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 2014 report said. “Such circumstances derail healthy development and lead to significant psychological and physiological trauma.”
For African American children, states that scored the lowest on the 2014 index were primarily located in the South, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. The Natural State ranked in the bottom ten with an index score of only 270 in the state-by-state comparison.
That study also showed that scoring on the index for white and Latino children in Arkansas were also below the national average at 577 and 369, respectively.
Nationwide, the Casey Foundation proposed four recommendations, which included expanding data collection, connecting data to investments and policymaking, implementing promising and evidence-based programs and practices and encouraging economic inclusion.
“Taken together, these recommendations will help ensure that all children and their families participate, prosper and achieve their full potential in an inclusive economy,” the report said.