Childhood Poverty Threatens California's Economic Prosperity

National Journal

The increasing number of Latino youths in California who are growing up in poverty threatens the long-term economic prosperity of the state with perhaps the nation's largest economy, a new report indicates.

Based on recent census data, the report shows that 23 percent of all children in the Golden State live at or below the poverty line. Poverty is concentrated among the largest ethnic and racial minorities.

White children, who account for a little more than 27 percent of California's population, have about a 10 percent poverty rate. In contrast, Latinos, who account for more than half of all kids in the state, have a poverty rate of nearly 30 percent, according to the Center for the Next Generation, the organization that produced the report.

Black children up to the age of 6 experience a poverty rate of 38.1 percent, about 15 percentage points higher than the average for that age group (23.2 percent).

The authors of the report, "Prosperity Threatened: Perspectives on Childhood Poverty in California," noted that childhood poverty became more pronounced as a result of the economic crisis that started in 2008.

It all boils down to investments, said Ann O'Leary, director of the Children and Families Program at the Center for the Next Generation and a coauthor of the report.

As countries such as China and India ramp up investment in education, U.S. funding has stagnated, she said. Less support for  children will have a detrimental impact on the nation's economic well-being, she told The Next America.

Studies have suggested that youngsters who live in poverty are less likely to successfully climb the economic ladder as adults.

The path for such children is riddled with roadblocks, including studying and learning obstacles in underfunded and low-performing schools and growing up in unsafe neighborhoods.

(Related: 1 in 5 Kids in U.S. Living in Poverty, Report Says)

Increasingly, child advocates have also highlighted the economic toll on a nation where large populations raised in poverty. Children who grow up poor are more likely to have low earnings as adults; in turn, that lower workforce productivity results in direct loss of good and services to the overall economy, according to a Center for American Progress report.

California is in the forefront of the nation's racial and ethnic demographic shift, which has clear policy implications. The state is home to the largest noncitizen population in the nation. Currently, non-Hispanic whites account for nearly 40 percent of the state's population, while Latinos make up 38.1 percent, according to census figures. Blacks and Asian-Americans make up 6.6 percent and 13.6 percent, respectively.

Historically, these groups have supported more public investment in schools, among other sectors. This month, undocumented students in California became eligible to receive state-funded financial aid to complete their education.

"Our ability to thrive as the world's ninth-largest economy depends on having an educated, healthy, and stable next generation of workers. We're headed in the opposite direction," O'Leary said in a statement.