Though much attention has been paid to the growing diversity of the U.S. population and the vital role that Latinos will play in our country's future, it's time to focus on a sobering and little-discussed fact: By 2030, Latino children will make up half of the U.S. child population living in poverty.
How can we allow such a large and growing group of our current and future population to continue down this road? The answer is simple. We can't.
Let's examine the figures. Since 1990, the number of Latino children under age 18 living in the U.S. has doubled, making them one of the fastest-growing segments of the national population. We are talking about U.S. citizens. More than 90% of the current 16 million Latino children in this country were born here, and growth projections for Hispanic children are propelled not by immigration, but by U.S. birth rates. Latino children are clearly poised to become an even more critical portion of the country's economic health, social well-being, and political power.
But new data from the Population Reference Bureau paint a sad mosaic for the future of these kids, one that shows up to 44% of all U.S. children living in poverty in 2030 to be Hispanic. That future is not so hard to believe when we consider the current predicament of Latino kids.
Today, more than one-fourth of Latino children live in poverty. Three-fifths live in low-income families. More than one-fourth of Latino four-year-olds are not enrolled in early childhood education programs. Almost one-fifth have difficulty speaking English. One in five does not have health insurance. About two out of every five teens and preteens are obese or overweight. Only 55% graduate from high school. And Latino youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system and adult jails.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) has fought to overcome these major challenges through our youth programs, ensuring that Latino children have access to health care, a better education, fair housing and credit programs, an immigration system that does not tear families apart, and a reformed juvenile justice system. But today we are in crisis, and more must be done. To engage others in this effort, NCLR convened youth experts, policymakers, and community leaders for the first time ever in the nation's capital this month to develop a comprehensive policy agenda to address the well-being of Latino children.
But this isn't just an effort that should be confined to NCLR or the Latino community. Everyone must get involved. If our youth succeed, we all succeed. If they fail, we all fail. It's time to take action if we are to reverse these unacceptable trends. Take a young person under your wing. Fight for better schools for all kids. Volunteer to teach English at your neighborhood center. Write to Congress and the president and ask for comprehensive immigration reform. Demand health care reform that includes all children, foreclosure prevention programs that keep families in their communities, and job programs that stabilize neighborhoods.
Each child in this nation, regardless of the color of her skin, the origin of his parents, and the neighborhood she grew up in, deserves the opportunity to claim a piece of the American Dream. All children should have the same opportunities for success that so many others take for granted. In a country as great as ours, we all deserve nothing less.
Follow Janet Murguía on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jmurguia_nclr