With the holiday season in full swing, it is sometimes easy to forget that such national celebrations are big economically. Sometimes, though, we ought to think about just how much we spend on good times and wonder about our priorities.
The Urban Institute recently calculated that Americans spent more on Halloween than our nation spends on Head Start, a key nationwide program for early childhood.
Head Start clearly ought to be the bigger beneficiary of our national investments.
Early childhood investments are important. Disturbingly, children growing up in Louisiana in black families may have a significantly more difficult time achieving financial success as adults than white children, according to a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report.
Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy for the foundation, is an author of the report. She argues that the impact of school segregation lingers in the South.
The report — called the "2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children" — is based on 12 indicators obtained through U.S. Census data that together help determine the likelihood that children will become middle class or above by the time they reach middle age.
The indicators include the percentages of children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in school, middle school students who score proficient or above in reading and math, high school students who graduate on time, girls who delay childbearing until adulthood, young adults who earn an associate degree or higher, and other factors such as living in an affluent area and growing up with both parents in the home.
“For America to reach its full economic, democratic and moral potential, all children must have the opportunity to grow, develop and thrive,” the report says. “We know what children need: strong families, environments that support healthy early brain development, and the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills.”
Black children in Louisiana are on average from poorer families; that drives the results for the indicators, with scores significantly lower for African-American children than for white children.
On a scale of 1 to 1,000 where a higher number means children have a better chance at prosperity later in life, white children in Louisiana scored 625 while black children scored 276 based on census data from 2013 to 2015.
It is not purely a Southern-states issue: For African-American children, Louisiana received one of the lowest scores among the 44 states for which data was available. But Ohio received the same score as Louisiana while Michigan scored lowest of those 44 states.
And, of course, white children in Louisiana — a generally poorer state on average — also face difficulties. Louisiana ranked marginally better but still low — 43rd out of 50 states — ahead of Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. The lowest score for white children across all states — 525 in West Virginia — is still nearly double the score for black children growing up in Louisiana and other states.
These kinds of analysis suggest more should be done to build ladders to success from the youngest ages. Waiting leads to a scary result.