Children have been hit especially hard by the economic recession that gripped the United States in late 2007. Many young children went hungry, homeless and without the educational opportunities and health care they needed as their parents struggled to find jobs and put food on the table. A new report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, bolstered by new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), looks at how children and families are doing today, amid the financial recovery.
Children continue to face challenging circumstances. Twenty-two percent of all children ages 0 to 17 lived in poverty in 2011, effectively equal to the prior year, but up from about 16 percent in 2001. More children than ever lived in single-parent homes last year – 24 percent with only their mothers and 4 percent with only their fathers. Forty-six percent of families in 2011 lived in inadequate or unaffordable housing, with 149,000 children nationwide homeless at once last year.
The report finds evidence of a major demographic shift. By 2050, it projects that Hispanic, Asian and multi-racial children will comprise half the population between the ages of 0 and 17. Already, nearly a quarter of school-aged children have at least one foreign-born parent, and 22 percent of children ages 5 to 17 speak a language other than English at home.
These demographic shifts have significant implications for schools. Many students will face significant challenges catching up to their wealthier, more advantaged peers, including in language and literacy skills, all while dealing with potential hunger, unstable housing, and tumultuous home lives. These problems begin in children’s earliest years.
The report found that in the 2010-11 school year, 89 percent of first-time kindergartners were in public kindergarten programs and 11 percent in private programs. Fifty-five percent of kindergartners had been in center-based child care settings the year before. Among low-income children ages 0 to 4, only 18 percent were in center-based care; above the federal poverty level, 26 percent were.
These numbers are academically significant for many reasons. Among them:
- Children who were cared for by relatives at home demonstrate lower achievement scores than children who attended non-relative home-based care, center-based care, or a combination of multiple child care settings;
- On kindergarten assessments, white and Asian children scored higher than their black and Hispanic peers;
- Kindergartners with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (the cutoff for President Obama’s proposed pre-K program) scored lower on a reading assessment than their peers whose parents earned at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level;
- Kindergartners who spoke English as their primary language at home scored higher than their peers who spoke a language other than English at home; and
- For reading and math, children whose parents had higher levels of education, including any amount of college or a professional degree, performed better than children whose parents had not completed high school or had only a high school diploma.
The new data confirm the importance of early education in children’s lives, as well as the advantages afforded by a stable and comfortable home life.