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Financial success? Report shows race plays major role

For those growing up in Louisiana, African-American children may have a significantly more difficult time achieving financial success as adults than white children, according to an Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

Poverty and policy decisions that have historically limited access to opportunity for minority residents are two main factors that have contributed to the current disparity, said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy for the foundation and an author of the report.
She notes, for example, that the impacts of school segregation still linger, particularly in the South.

The report—called the “2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children”—is based on 12 indicators obtained through census data that together help determine the likelihood that children will become middle class or above by the time they reach middle age.

The indicators include the percentages of children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in school; middle school students who score proficient or above in reading and math; high school students who graduate on time; girls who delay childbearing until adulthood; young adults who earn an associate’s degree or higher; and other factors such as living in an affluent area and growing up with both parents in the home.

“For America to reach its full economic, democratic and moral potential, all children must have the opportunity to grow, develop and thrive,” the report says. “We know what children need: strong families; environments that support healthy early brain development; and the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as dedicated to building better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States.
Using those 12 indicators of success, researchers calculated scores for children in every state, divided along racial lines.

Louisiana scored relatively poorly for all races when compared to other states, but scores were significantly lower for African-American children than for white children—the two largest racial segments of the state population. On a scale of 1 to 1,000 where a higher number means children have a better chance at prosperity later in life, white children in Louisiana scored 625 while black children scored 276 based on census data from 2013 to 2015.

For African-American children, Louisiana received one of the lowest scores among the 44 states for which data was available—Ohio received the same score as Louisiana while Michigan scored lowest of those 44 states. (Data was not available for Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.)

For white children, Louisiana ranked marginally better but still low—43rd out of 50 states—ahead of Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. The lowest score for white children across all states—525 in West Virginia—is still nearly double the score for black children growing up in Louisiana and other states.

That discrepancy arises from the compilation of several factors that make financial success a more daunting goal for black children in Louisiana and other states, according to the report. In Louisiana only 18 percent of African-American people ages 25 to 29 have an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 27 percent of African-Americans nationally. For white people that number is 38 percent in Louisiana, compared to 48 percent nationally.

The child poverty rate in Louisiana is also higher than the national average: about 28 percent compared to 21 percent nationally in 2015. That makes climbing into the middle class more difficult for more than a quarter of children, Speer said.

Asian and Pacific Islanders represent only about 2 percent of Louisiana’s population, according to 2016 census data. But children of those racial groups have the best chance of financial success in Louisiana, according to the report. They scored 729 and ranked 27th among 43 states for which data was available.

Children growing up in Latino families—roughly 5 percent of Louisiana’s population—received a score of 466 and ranked 16th among 49 states for which data was available.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which produced a similar report three years ago using census data from 2007 to 2013, found that the scores it assigned generally improved between the 2014 report and the 2017 report. But Speer said the gaps between whites and minority groups remain about the same, indicating that some minorities continue to struggle despite modest overall improvements.

“There is not much social mobility right now in our country,” she said. “That’s something that has decreased in recent years . and is definitely a policy issue. It has to do with the decisions we make on things like corporate taxes, things like wages, health care.”

Measuring access to opportunity and taking a hard look at the data available is a good first step toward improvement, she said. “What we really wanted to try to emphasize here (in the report) is that this points to a systemic difference in access to opportunity.”

The next step is providing people with access to services that help them achieve relative financial success, she said. “We believe that we can make better choices, that we can implement policies and programs that can actually help to improve outcomes for kids and expand the opportunities available to them.”

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