America has been described as a “melting pot”– a land full of diversity. With that diversity comes a full range of income levels and statuses of its inhabitants, from the very, very rich to the destitute. Ronald Taylor’s article entitled “African-American Youth: Their Social and Economic Status in the United States” focuses on the issue of polarization. Polarization occurs when an increase of the percentage of people in poverty coincides with an increase of the percentage of people with higher incomes. Fewer people are considered ‘middle class’, but are either rich or poor.
This paper will focus on the poverty-stricken youth of America. How are today’s poor white and poor non-white youth alike? How do they differ? Sociologists and researchers have found evidence to justify both, and I hope to focus on major points for both issues.
Whether you’re white, African-American, or Hispanic, poverty for today’s youth has many recurring themes. A recent article by Duncan and Brooks for The Education Digest points out some very discerning facts that face today’s poor youth. “Low Income is linked with a variety of poor outcomes for children, from low birth weight and poor nutrition in infancy to increased chances of academic failure, emotional distress, and unwed childbirth in adolescence.” (Duncan& Brooks, pg. 1). They also claim that low-income preschoolers show poorer cognitive and verbal skills because they are exposed to fewer toys, books, and other brain-stimulating items at home than their higher-income classmates.
Low-income adolescents, in later years, will experience conflict between their economically stressed parents, as well as lower self-esteem than other teenaged children.
An article from the Ojibwe News, a Native American Magazine, gives a startling statistic discovered by research analysts for the Minnesota Private College Research Foundation. They found that a child from a family earning $25,000 or less annually is only one-half as likely to enroll in college as a child from a family with an annual income of $50,000 or more.
Both white and non-white youth in poverty experience a higher rate of teenage pregnancy, AIDS, and tend to live in single-parent homes.
There are several differences that exist between white and non-white youth that live in poverty. Recent research for low-income youth has shown that the most important factor that contributes to the gap between employment rates of minority and white youth can be attributed to their social network. Three reasons were cited in lecture as to what lead to the declination of life chances among African-American youth in poverty. They are as follows:
1.“Affirmative Action” primarily helped better-educated, especially professional workers.
2.Relocation of industry to suburbs or abroad reduces “living wage” jobs for non-college educated. Lack of network contacts, plus continuing discrimination, puts minorities last in line.
3.Concentration of poverty in center cities. Higher income black families go to the suburbs for jobs. Therefore, loss of network contacts, community organizations, and the like.
These reasons attribute to the starling fact that Black poverty rates and unemployment rates remain at approximately 3 times the white rate. Israel and Seeborg in their article entitled “The Impact of Youth Characteristics and Experiences on Transitions out of Poverty” state that “…being black increases the probability of exposure to adverse social and economic conditions (i.e. underclass environment)…” which, in turn, reduces the chance that new generations can get out of poverty. This leads us to another point—if African-Americans experience the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, which perpetuates continuing generational poverty, will there ever be a time when African-American adolescents get out of poverty?
It is not only African-Americans that feel a more pronounced state of poverty. The Ojibwe News, a native American newspaper, focuses on the plights of Native American youth in Minnesota, as well as statistical evidence of other minority students. “Divided We Fall: The Declining Chance for College Among Minnesota Youth From Low-Income Families and Communities of Color” is based upon information from the Census Bureau, the Minnesota Department of Education and other sources, and examined high school dropout and college participation rates and how they are affected by such socioeconomic factors as race, family income, and parental education (Laird, pg. 2). The Ojibwe News showed a strong correlation between education and earnings. Considering that the present funding system for public schools usually provides from two to five times as much money for wealthy school districts as for the poorest, and that whites are twice as likely to have good access to computers, it is no surprise that this correlation exists. According to projections by the Minnesota Department of Education, 62% of all black students and 56% of all Native American students who entered public high school in the fall of 1991 will drop out by 1995. Nearly 50% of Hispanic students and 21% of Asian students were projected to drop out as well. The rate for white students? Only 16%.
The article also explains how those 18 to 24 year-old dependents with at least one parent who had completed four years of college were twice as likely to enroll in college than those peers who parents had no post-secondary education (Laird, pg. 1).
In summary, there exist many similarities and differences between white youth and non-white youth in American cities. A recurring solution emphasized by researches and in lecture is the idea of socialization. By integrating poor minority and poor white students with their wealthier peers, as done in the Gautreaux program, the continuation of poverty can be decreased.
Duncan, Greg. J. and Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne. “Consequences of Growing Up Poor”. The Education Digest March 1999 Vol. 64, No. 7. pp. 77.
Israel, Mark and Seeborg, Michael. “The Impact of Youth Characteristics And Experiences on Transitions Out of Poverty”. The Journal of Socio Economics. 1998 pp. 1-6.
Laird, David B. Jr. “Minority Students from Low-Income Families Face Huge Hurdles in Advancing to College”. The Ojibwe News: Ethnic News Watch. May 1994 Vol. 5, No. 45. pp. 2.