Youth in the United States

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Youth in the United States can be regarded as one age group in the demographics of the United States.


  • All of which raises an obvious question: Why do blacks have a hard time leaving impoverished neighborhoods? [...] Once you grasp the staggering differences between black and white neighborhoods, it becomes much easier to explain a whole realm of phenomena. Take the achievement gap between middle-class black students and their white peers. It’s easy to look at this and jump to cultural explanations—that this is a function of black culture and not income or wealth. But, when we say middle-class black kids are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods, what we’re also saying is that they’re less likely to have social networks with professionals, and more likely to be exposed to violence and crime. This can have serious consequences. Youthful experimentation for a white teenager in a suburb might be smoking a joint in a friend’s attic. Youthful experimentation for a black teenager might be hanging out with gang members.
  • Imagine, for a moment, this scenario: a 200-meter footrace in which the starting blocks of some competitors are placed 75 meters behind the others. Barring an Olympic-caliber runner, those who started way in front will naturally win. Now, think of that as an analogy for the predicament that American kids born in poverty face through no fault of their own. They may be smart and diligent, their parents may do their best to care for them, but they begin life with a huge handicap. As a start, the nutrition of poor children will generally be inferior to that of other kids. No surprise there, but here’s what’s not common knowledge: A childhood nutritional deficit matters for years afterwards, possibly for life.
  • Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. [...] Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.
  • What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially. We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform. Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families. Part of knowing what we should do about this is understanding how and why these educational disparities are growing.
  • Money helps families provide cognitively stimulating experiences for their young children because it provides more stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and — in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs — access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.
  • Investments in early-childhood education pay very high societal dividends. That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it.
  • The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.
  • 13 million children are hungry in America. Yet most politicians do not even talk about it. Children aren’t old enough to vote, nor old enough to work therefore they have no financial leverage. They’re not old enough to advocate for themselves. That’s our job. The political establishment has simply normalized the despair of millions of American children who are chronically traumatized by poverty, hunger, and all manner of violence. This is what happens when government becomes more an instrument of corporate profits then of conscience. The vulnerabilities, challenges and chronic trauma of millions of American children should be recognized as a social justice issue. An economic system with no particular use for children - or for older people - has left both groups underserved. This country shouldn’t be run like a business, it should be run like a family. First we should take care of our children & older people, making sure they have everything they need to thrive. Everything else would then heal itself from there. Moral repair precedes societal repair.
  • A record 14 million children in America are not getting enough to eat... even before the pandemic, in the richest nation in the world, about 13 million children went to school hungry every day. A report from January found more than 1.5 million public school students were experiencing homelessness, the highest number in over a dozen years. Millions of children attend classrooms where there aren't adequate means to teach them to read by the time they're 8 years old—in which case, their chances of high school graduation are drastically decreased and chances of incarceration are drastically increased.
    Millions of our kids (40 percent of all girls in Chicago public schools...) show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the COVID-19 crisis is quickly making that worse. Schools across the country are working to adopt "trauma-informed" teaching methods. Meanwhile, there is an average of only one school counselor for every 455 public school students... Consider the psychological and emotional effects of going to school each day well aware of school shootings and worried that the weird antisocial kid in class might want to kill you. Make no mistake about it, many of these children will be broken human beings 20 years from now.
  • When people say the government should be run like a business, tell them that in many ways it already is—and that's the problem. Our government should not be run like a business; it should be run like a family. A business might rightfully put its short-term profits first, but a functional family puts the well-being of its children first. That's not a relative truth; it's a moral absolute.
  • No one doubts what any of us would do for our own children, but now we must stand for everyone's children. We need a Cabinet-level position, a Department of Children and Youth, to even begin to get this problem under control. American women especially have a unique role to play here. For our system was designed before women had a voice in the public realm, and raising children was deemed to just be "women's work." But we certainly have a voice now, and we need to raise it on behalf of every mother's child. In any advanced mammalian species that survives and thrives, a common characteristic is the fierce behavior of the adult female of the species when she senses a threat to her cubs. Ours are threatened now, and we need to get fierce.
    • Marianne Williamson: If We Want a Prosperous America Tomorrow, Take Care of Our Children Today, Newsweek (23 July 2020)

See also

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