Last week, I was a panelist on NCLR’s press conference for the recently released report, Toward a More Equitable Future: The Trends & Challenges Facing America’s Latino Children. The report is an up-to-date demographic analysis on the health and wellbeing of our nation’s Latino children aged 0–17. The research document also comes with an electronic data took kit, Latino Kids Data Explorer, linking the reader to facts, figures and analysis of every state and region in the county. At the press conference release of the research document I offered my reflections on the research and was honored to serve as a panelist. I would like to share a few of my thoughts.
This publication offers the most up-to-date data on Latino children and youth that I have seen in a long time. Data informs policy makers in every sector including local, regional, and national elected and appointed leaders, chancellors and superintendents, as well as non-profit executive directors. And most importantly, data is critical to every advocacy effort that activists use to inform elected leaders and policy makers on resource distribution and policies impacting the lives of many. Too often policy makers will hide behind the lack of data as an excuse for inaction, and today we have the tool that we need to inform decision makers.
But data alone is not enough
The analysis behind the data and specifics regarding the successes and challenges of Latino children and their families based and whether they are a recent immigrants or first, second, or third generation citizens is critical in our work and decision-making processes. The data and analysis both dispels demographic myths while at the same time confirms what local leaders and activists see on the ground in their local communities and neighborhoods.
Real facts matter
Many may be surprised to know that 95% of Latino children are citizens. There are 18.2 million Latino youth in our country making them the largest minority population. While the data varies from region to region, this information is critical to the development of program policies on the state and local level that impact the health and well-being of the Latino community. It also speaks to the need to ensure that there is elected Latino representation in those areas of the country where there is both a large and growing Latino population.
As confirmed through my work at LAYC, family structure, parental education and income are keys to success, as is citizenship, ability to speak English, and how long one has lived in the country. Yet today more than three-fifths of Latino children and youth are living in poverty. There have been educational gains, but still challenging disparities as youth move from childhood to adolescence. If these disparities are not addressed, Latino youth will remain at a disadvantage for college completion, career pathways and employment opportunities
Latino boys are at greater risk in many ways more than girls. Too often our national dialogue around boys of color leaves Latino boys out of the conversation. I have found this to be true with both elected leaders and philanthropy leaders. African-American boys and Latino boys confront serious issues in our nation, and any conversation regarding racial equity and institutional racism must keep this in mind.
According to the report, the good news is that youth incarceration is down, but I am concerned about this statistics. I do wonder if Latino youth are bypassing juvenile facilities, which are supposed to be rehabilitative, and just going directly to adult punitive facilities and/or deportation. For example, in my region, juvenile justice treatment options are minimal for Latino boys, so they often face an uncertain fate if they land in the adult system and are undocumented.
Impact of the nonprofit sector on the numbers
As NCLR is a network of over 300 non-profit affiliates across the country it is worth noting that this document does not review their community impact. While inn the DC region, the statistics look good and are improving, I know LAYC and other non-profit educational and health organizations contribute to some of these regional outcomes including higher graduation rates, fewer teen pregnancies, and reduced homelessness for Latino youth. We and our community partners have been addressing these issues in a most vibrant way for decades. Our work is often done with values, passion and a commitment to outcomes that are not always seen inside large school systems or governments. But, we need more local and regional support for our non-profit organizations. This support is critical to the health and wellbeing of the Latino community all over the country. Often our work is not appreciated by local governments, and in fact at times we are viewed as competitors. The role a vibrant non-profit sector plays across the country should be noted, celebrated, and resourced.
I continue to call for continued advocacy and the importance of identifying Latino leaders and non-Latino leaders who understand and embrace these challenges in their leadership role, their governance and circles of influence. In many parts of the country this is the case—in our region it is not. The successes we have seen have in great part been accomplished through advocacy and high quality work in our communities with the children youth and families we serve and support.
In closing, we do not need any more task forces…we do not need additional data. The information is here, and we need to act swiftly and with intentionality to address these issues and move youth out of poverty and into successful adulthood.