America's Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends

(April 2010) The demography of the United States is changing at an accelerated pace. Over the past 20 years, the number of Latino children under age 18 living in the United States has doubled, making them one of the fastest-growing segments of the national population. By 2035, one-third of all American children and youth will be Latino, and it is projected that by 2050, one-third of the overall population will be Hispanic. Today’s 16 million Latino children and youth—92 percent of whom are U.S. citizens—thus represent a crucial segment of the United States’ future workers, taxpayers, parents, citizens, voters, and leaders.

View the data book and access data on 25 indicators on the National Council of La Raza website.

A new data book, produced by the National Council of La Raza and the Population Reference Bureau, is the first publication of its kind to offer a comprehensive overview of the state of Latino children by integrating a range of key factors and outcomes in the areas of demography, citizenship, family structure, poverty, health, education, and juvenile justice. It provides an overview of current national and state-level trends for Latino children under age 18 relative to non-Hispanic white and black children, documenting both regional variations and changing trends since 2000. The data described in this document tell a compelling, but unfortunately alarming story, pointing primarily to the numerous obstacles and inequalities that currently impede Latino children’s paths toward a successful adulthood and that may hinder the broader integration of Latinos into U.S. society if left unattended.

Mark Mather, associate vice president of Domestic Programs at PRB, is co-author of the report. “Demographic trends matter. We need to pay attention to the fact that we have a large and rapidly growing population of Latino youth and many are going to struggle as they make the transition to adulthood. But it’s these youth who will drive labor force growth in the coming years,” says Mather. “If demographic projections are correct and conditions for Latino children don’t improve, by 2030 Latinos may account for 44 percent of children in poverty. We need to address these problems to make sure Latino children have the resources they need to become productive adults.”

Some disturbing national trends revealed in the report include the following:

  • Despite a predominantly hardworking adult population,the majority of Latino children continue to live in poor and low-income families; many live in high-poverty neighborhoods that are socially and economically isolated from more affluent communities. Although Latino children make up 22 percent of the total population under age 18, they account for 33 percent all children living in poverty.
  • While 92 percent of Latino children are U.S. citizens, 58 percent of all Latino children live in immigrant families with one or more foreign-born parents. Having an immigrant parent can prevent children from accessing important benefits to which they are eligible, including education and health services; this is especially true for children of undocumented parents who may fear contact with federal and state agencies.
  • Latino children are disadvantaged in the educational system early on, and only 55 percent graduate from high school with a regular diploma. Latino children are currently underrepresented in early childhood education programs, placing them at a disadvantage early on relative to other children, particularly if they do not live in English-dominant households. By the time they reach eighth grade, 42 percent score below basic reading levels. Teenagers who drop out of high school are at a severe disadvantage in terms of future employment opportunities and potential earnings.
  • One out of five Latino children, primarily children of immigrants, does not have access to health insurance. While in many respects healthier than other children, Hispanic children are faring significantly worse than other racial/ethnic groups on several important health indicators, including teen pregnancy, childhood obesity, and access to health care.
  • Latino children and youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system and are increasingly placed in adult facilities. There is a conspicuous lack of current, comprehensive, nationwide juvenile justice statistics for the Latino youth population. Nonetheless, in 2006, there were more than 19,000 Latino youth incarcerated in the United States, mostly for nonviolent offenses. Based on current incarceration rates, about one in six Latino males—and one in three black males—will be imprisoned at some point during their lives.

The data book also points to some overall positive trends for Hispanic children. Maternal education, for example, which has a significant impact on child well-being, has sharply increased over the past decade. However, the overall picture presented shows clearly that Latino children are in need of significant help. Reversing these alarming trends is achievable through a swift, targeted, and comprehensive approach focused on greater investment in policy and program initiatives that have been proven to enhance children’s lives in the various areas discussed in the data book.

A web version of the data book, which provides raw and regularly updated data for each of the state-level indicators described, also serves as a research and advocacy tool for those seeking to delve further into the information presented here. Data can be accessed and downloaded at