African-American and Latino children in New Jersey have a far better chance at success than their counterparts in other states, according to a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
But the Kids Count Report “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children,” shows a large opportunity gap between black and Latino children and white and Asian children, both nationally and in New Jersey. There are also disparities within minority groups, depending on ethnic backgrounds.
The report ranked the states by 12 indicators that include access to preschool, test scores, graduation rates, access to higher education and poverty level. New Jersey ranked second in the nation for the well-being of Asian and white children, eighth for Latino children and ninth for African-American children.
Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said the data is not especially surprising based on overall child welfare reports, but it is valuable in breaking out the data by race and ethnicity so that solutions can be targeted to those who need them most.
“It confirms what we have suspected, that there is a race and ethnicity gap,” she said.
She said the state’s overall status shows that programs such as public preschool have helped children, but that poverty remains at the core of the problem.
“Poverty impacts on everything that relates to a child,” she said. “And the solution is not just in the schools.”
She said lack of affordable housing and unemployment keep children in poverty.
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, said minority children are doing better educationally in New Jersey because of the Abbott vs. Burke lawsuit rulings that gave schools in urban areas more state funding and high quality public preschool.
But he is concerned that under Gov. Chris Christie and tighter school funding the state is losing ground on those investments.
Zalkind said the process has to start at birth, and the infant mortality rate has dropped while the percent of babies born at normal birth weight has risen. The report shows about 92 percent of all babies are born at normal birth weight, with little variation among racial or ethnic groups.
The percentage of children in preschool is fairly equitable among the groups, about 72 percent statewide. Latino children had the lowest participation rate at 67 percent and African-American children the highest at 76 percent.
The gap begins to show up in state test scores. Fourth-graders who are at least proficient in reading is 69 percent for Asians, 53 percent for whites, 22 percent for African-Americans and 21 percent for Latinos.
In eighth-grade, math the proficiency rate is 78 percent for Asians, 58 percent for whites, 34 percent for Hispanics and 24 percent for African-Americans.
“Public preschool has given more children access to early education,” Zalkind said. “But we still have to work on sustaining those gains. We have to monitor the gap to see if we are maintaining, gaining or losing ground and why.”
While at least 95 percent of white and Asian children live in areas where the poverty rate is less than 20 percent, only 64 percent of African-Americans and 70 percent of Latinos are in low-poverty areas. More than 90 percent of whites and Asians ages 19 to 26 are either working or in school. Only 80 percent of Latinos and 72 percent of African-Americans in that age group have jobs or are in school.
The report also noted that ethnicity plays a role in child well-being. Among Latinos, children of families who are natives of Spain, Cuba or Colombia were far better off financially than children from Mexico, Honduras or the Dominican Republic.
Among Asians, families from India, Japan, China, Korea and the Philippines were better off financially than families from Cambodia, Laos or Pakistan.
Being from an immigrant family generally predicted worse outcomes for children, but children in immigrant families were more likely to live in two-parent households than children in U.S.-born families..
The report recommended that the data be used to develop policies that target investments where they can have the greatest impact.
Zalkind said the state Kids Count reports shows child poverty has been increasing in New Jersey, and the solution includes creating jobs and helping families both at the state and national level. Southern New Jersey counties have ranked at or near the bottom of the state report.
“We need to work hard on helping the entire family, and not cutting programs like food stamps,” she said. “You can’t take the issue in isolation.”
Contact Diane D'Amico: