February 8, 2008

Long-term study says lives of black, Hispanic children improving

By Anel Ramazanova

WASHINGTON - Black and Hispanic children’s lives have become healthier and their families have become better off financially since 1985, a new study found.

In addition, the gap between them and white children in several areas narrowed through 2004, the most recent data in the study. The study was released last week by the Foundation for Child Development.

The report’s co-author, Donald J. Hernandez, a sociology professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York, said the research found that black and Hispanic high school seniors are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and abuse drugs than their white classmates.

Hernandez said blacks and Hispanics ages 15 to 19 are less likely to commit suicide than whites in the same age group. The rates for all three groups have declined since 2000. For whites, about 10 in 100,000 commit suicide. For Hispanics, the number is seven in 100,000 and for blacks, it’s five in 100,000.

He said the minority teens are more likely to report that religion is important to them and to attend religion services weekly.

The foundation’s child and youth well-being index shows changes in child and youth well being in American society from 1975 to 2004. It is based on 28 categories organized into seven areas of well-being: safety, family economic well-being, health, community connectedness, educational attainment, social relationships and emotional well-being.

The index set 100 as the baseline score in 1975. Beginning in the early 1980s, the index dipped to the low 90s, but has been slightly over 100 since 2001.

The study found that poverty has declined for all three groups, but blacks and Hispanics experienced much higher declines than whites. The study also found more children in all three groups were more likely to have a parent employed in a full-time, year-round job than in 1985. Black children were the least likely to be in such a family, followed by Hispanics and whites.

Hernandez said a slightly higher percentage of blacks ages 18 to 24 than whites voted in the 2000 presidential election - in both groups about 33 percent of those eligible to vote did so. The number for Hispanics was much lower, just over 15 percent voted.

Voting relates to community connectedness and education in the index.

White students ages 25 to 29 were far more likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree - about 30 percent. The gap between blacks and whites stayed about the same. About 18 percent of blacks and 12 percent of Hispanics earned bachelor’s degrees.

Hernandez said the overall gap between black and white children closed by one-fourth, and between Hispanics and whites by one-third.

Julia B. Isaacs, child and family policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, spoke about economic mobility of black and white families based on different data.

“Your parents’ income does seem to have an influence on where you end up,” she said.

According to her report, there is no progress in reducing the gap in family income between blacks and whites. In 2004, the median annual family income of blacks ages 30 to 39 was 58 percent of white families’ income in the same age group - $35,000 for blacks compared to $60,000 for whites.

Black children grow up in families with much lower income than white children do, Isaacs said.

Hernandez said it will probably take two or more generations to eliminate the gaps that separate white children from black and Hispanic children, according to new research.

The New America Foundation sponsored the discussion of the report.

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