Africanamerican Children

African-American children are individuals under the age of eighteen who include among their ancestors individuals who were forcibly brought from African countries to the Americas as slaves beginning in the early 1600s. In 1998, of the 69.9 million children in the United States, 15 percent were African American. Although the majority of poor children in the United States are of European ancestry, annual rates of poverty among African-American children typically are two to three times that of non-Latino European-American children. In 1997, for example, 37 percent of African-American children lived in families with incomes below the official poverty threshold, compared to 15 percent of European-American children. African-American children also are far more likely than non-Hispanic European-American children to experience long-term poverty. Poverty among non-Hispanic European-American children is primarily a transitory phenomenon. An analysis that focused on children who were between birth and five years of age in 1982 tracked these children over a ten-year period (1982-1991). Although 41 percent of the African-American children never experienced poverty during this period, 43 percent were poor for at least three of the ten years, 28 percent were poor for six or more years, and 17 percent were poor for at least nine years. The comparable figures for non-African-American children were 79 percent, 9 percent, 3 percent, and 1 percent, respectively (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1999). These racial disparities are alarming because it is well established that experiencing poverty year after year has more detrimental effects on cognitive development, school achievement, and socioemotional functioning than experiencing poverty occasionally (Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1997).

Equally as striking are racial differences in net financial assets (readily liquid sources of wealth that can be used for a family's immediate needs and desires such as savings accounts, stocks, and bonds) within households at similar income levels. In the late 1980s, African Americans in high-income households (over $50,000) possessed only 23 cents of median net financial assets for every dollar of assets held by European Americans. African-American children are further disadvantaged because they are more likely to live in poor, isolated urban ghettos than European Americans of similar economic status. On average, these communities have fewer social, educational, and occupational resources that enhance children's development (e.g., high quality child care), and in many cases are plagued by high rates of crime and violence related to gang- and drug-related activities. Even when African Americans escape poverty at the family level, they have a 50 percent chance of encountering it in their neighborhoods. The social, educational, and economic resources of neighborhoods can influence children in a multitude of developmental areas. For example, children who grow up in affluent neighborhoods or neighborhoods with a higher percentage of affluent families have higher cognitive functioning, complete more years of school, and have lower school dropout rates than children from economically similar families who grow up in poor neighborhoods or neighborhoods with proportionately fewer affluent families.

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