A new report released Tuesday from the Annie E. Casey Foundation repeats that refrain, showing that Wisconsin has the widest gap in well-being between white and African-American children, and other children of color face significant disparities as well.
“The message remains ... the well being of our white kids is in the top and the well being of our African-American kids is at the bottom,” said Ken Taylor, executive director of Kids Forward, the Wisconsin organization that released the report.
But if the state is going to succeed economically, that needs to change, Taylor said.
“We have to get on top of this,” he said.
The report, “2017 Race for Results,” uses 12 factors to rank child well-being, including percentage of babies born at normal birthweight, high school students graduating on time, kids who live in two-parent families and children living above 200 percent of the poverty line, using data collected from 2013 to 2015.
The first “Race for Results” report was published in 2014, and that report ranked the well-being of African American kids in Wisconsin last. This year, it ranked slightly higher, at 41 out of 44 states surveyed.
Taylor said that wasn’t cause for celebration. Due to methodological changes in the report, it’s unclear whether that represents a real improvement, he said.
“I would love to have a good news part of the story, I truly would, but we can’t say that,” he said.
Using a scale of 0 to 1000, the scores for Wisconsin were 279 for African-American kids and 762 for white children.
This year, the well-being of Asian children in the state was scored at 651, Native American children at 520 and Latino children at 439.
Some of the disparities outlined in the report:
- 93 percent of white students graduate from high school on time, compared to 64 percent of African-American students and 78 percent of Latino students.
- While 44 percent of fourth grade white kids were at or above proficient levels for reading, just 11 percent of African-American kids were at least proficient. That was the widest difference among states.
- The report looks at families living above 200 percent of the poverty rate, which would be just over $49,000 for a family of four. While 72 percent of white kids in Wisconsin live over this line, just 24 percent of African-American, 31 percent of Hmong kids and 30 percent of Latino kids enjoy the same security.
However, African-American kids in Wisconsin did see slight improvements in some categories. African-American females ages 15 to 19 who “delay childbearing into adulthood” increased from 83 percent in the 2014 report to 90 percent in the 2017 report. Young African-American adults aged 25 to 29 who have completed an associate's degree or higher jumped from 14 percent to 21 percent, with a standard error of 2.6.
But African-American kids also saw decreases: the percentage of African-American kids living in low-poverty areas slid from 39 to 30 percent.
Some of the struggles stretched across races. The percentage of Wisconsin kids at or above proficiency for reading in fourth grade is at just 37 percent. Only 11 percent of African-American kids were at least proficient and 19 percent of Latino kids.
Taylor said that unfortunately, he wasn’t surprised with the state’s wide racial disparities.
“We’ve been talking a lot about this locally in Dane County, and there are a lot of efforts from lots of different sectors,” he said. “But it’s not really translating to the state level.”
“We need to have this conversation at the state level, not not just because it’s the right thing to do morally, it’s the smart thing to do economically,” Taylor said, noting that an increasingly diverse state can’t expect to succeed if it leaves large pockets of its population behind.
Kids Forward suggested policy changes, including recruiting and hiring individuals of color with low incomes, expansion of affordable early-learning programs, diversifying the school district workforce and improved crisis intervention.
This year’s national “Race for Results” report put a particular emphasis on the well-being of immigrant families. There are 143,000 kids from immigrant families in Wisconsin, which means 11 percent of children in the state are foreign-born or have a foreign-born parent. Kids Forward says 82 percent are children of color, and 91 percent are U.S. citizens.
The report notes that children from immigrant families can be powerful contributors to the economy, but they sometimes face extra barriers.
They are more likely to be financially insecure, which is the case in Wisconsin. They are less likely to live about the 200 percent poverty line and less likely to live in low-poverty areas.
Plus, for undocumented families, living in fear of deportation can have long-term health effects, the report said.
To protect against trauma and keep families together, Kids Forward argued against deporting parents of U.S. citizens, and for the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, providing driver's licenses regardless of immigration status, and a higher minimum wage for all Wisconsinites.
“The big thing for me is to not tear families apart,” Taylor said. “We’re sort of headed in the wrong direction on that.”
Taylor said that for those who don’t feel comfortable trying to make policy-level change can take actions on a personal and organizational level. Individuals can learn about their biases, and he encouraged people to be in relationships with people different than them.
He also pointed to actions Wisconsinites can take at their workplace, faith communities or other social organizations, like asking questions about equitable hiring practices.
“You don’t have to be president or CEO to have an effect within an organization,” he said.