Nationwide, there is a growing racial generation gap. Latino and Asian communities have grown faster than other groups in America over the last 10 years by 43 percent and 43.3 percent, respectively. Consequently, the number of children coming from Latino and Asian households has grown by 5.5 million. This increase in Asian and Latino families has created a seismic shift in the percentages of people of color and their white counterparts by age. Sixty-seven percent of the adult population is white, but only 54 percent of American children are. Conversely, Latinos now represent one in four children living in the United States—a 43 percent jump from the previous decade.
Some might be tempted to declare that growth in communities of color will naturally translate into more progressive ideals, and that our responsibility to promote racial and economic justice—through policy initiatives, youth leadership, and professional development, among others—should be less of a priority.
But economic inequities continue to disproportionately affect young people of color—even those graduating from high schools and colleges. Simply consider how young people fared last year during the peak of youth joblessness: Joblessness for African-American college graduates was at 19 percent, more than double what it was for white college graduates (8.4 percent), while 13.8 percent of Latino graduates were out of work. Many of these youth represent the first generation of college students in their families and the hope for upward mobility through education.
The obstacles are even worse for youth whose highest degree is a high school diploma. Unemployment for African-American high school graduates under the age of 25 and not enrolled in college was 31.8 percent. Latino graduates were next with 22.8 percent in overall unemployment, compared to their white counterparts, at 20.3 percent. As the nation celebrates steadied improvement in the national unemployment rate, teens of color who want to join the labor force are still facing staggering barriers to entry.
This is a bleak snapshot of some of the young people we are expecting to carry our country into its future—especially since youth of color are outpacing all others in growth. How can these young people "win the future" considering these educational and employment obstacles?
Now more than ever before it is important to invest in newer generations of Americans so that they too have the opportunity to influence public policies that will directly affect their futures and those of the generations to follow. Through a commitment to advancing and protecting immigrant rights and equality of identity in addition to promoting legislative, political, and civic engagement, we can all work directly with and for young people to build their power. By mobilizing youth and youth-impacting issues, we can secure victories that improve communities at the local, state, and national levels.
Today young people of color remain vulnerable to the structural exclusions that dramatically circumscribe their ability to learn, work, compete, and innovate. The fact that even a college degree is unable to shield youth of color from the future-crippling consequences of the economic downturn should speak to the role that policymakers, advocates, and researchers must have in promoting solutions that deliver equitable outcomes. It should also signal to the larger American community as it continues to celebrate the nation’s growing diversity that the work to achieve racial and economic justice is far from over.
©2011 American Progress