By Barney Blakeney
For years I’ve done an annual story about the Kids Count report. The report is compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national organization that since 1948 monitors and reports on the well-being of children. My former editor, Jim French used to provide me a hard copy of the report each year.
We’re both old school journalists – Jim and I. Before retiring, somewhat reminiscent of Andy Rooney, French used to type his stories on a Smith Corona typewriter. Being a generation behind French, I first used a typewriter, then a word processor and now use a computer to write stories. But I still like hard copy materials for references. This year I got the report in an email. I am not tech savvy. So pulling out the information has been a task in itself. Unfortunately, even with my limited computer skills, I could tell not much has change for Black kids – they still are our state’s worst off.
A funny thing about reports like Kids Count, they usually confirm what most people already know. The numbers change, but the reality doesn’t. Each year I wrote the Kids Count story I almost could use the same wording and just plug in the updated numbers. The Avery Institute’s report on racial disparities in Charleston County confirms that little has changed about such disparities since the 1940s.
That’s why I find it so hard to understand how some folks don’t realize that the lifestyle they enjoy today was created by slavery, that their lifestyle is a direct result of slavery and that the City of Charleston’s attempt at an apology for its role in slavery is but one effort to acknowledge that reality. I just read a July 17 Post and Courier letter to the editor from an individual who just doesn’t get that his parents’ wealth-building only occurred because Black slaves created the economic environment in which their business was able to flourish. The Kids Count report always reaffirms for me how that travesty continues. Reading letters from people like that individual reaffirms why it continues. About 30 percent of the state’s children under age 18 are Black. About 55 percent are white. To start with, the median income for white households in South Carolina is highest at about $73,000 annually. Asian Pacific household median incomes come second at about $69,000 and Black household median incomes come in dead last at about $32,000. Black kids start out in households with much lower household incomes – less than half the median household income of their white counterparts. And it doesn’t get any better.
The report says establishing the conditions that promote successful educational achievement for children begins before birth and continues into the early elementary school years. With a strong and healthy beginning, it is much easier to keep children on track to stay in school and graduate, pursue postsecondary education and training and successfully transition to young adulthood. The infant mortality rate for Black babies doubles that for Hispanic and white babies. About 15 percent of Black babies are born with low birth weight compared to about 10 percent of all babies and about eight percent of white babies. About 12 percent of Black children are not in excellent or good health compared to about five percent of white children. The data doesn’t show results for other races or ethnicities.
When it comes to students who don’t graduate high school on time, the rate for Black kids is comparable to other groups. About 20 percent of Black kids don’t graduate on time while some 16 percent of white kids don’t graduate high school on time. About 20 percent of Hispanic or Latino kids also don’t graduate on time and some 26 percent of Native American kids don’t graduate on time. The experts agree the problems start earlier. According to the report, 85 percent of Black fourth graders are not proficient readers and 78 percent of Hispanic fourth grade students are not proficient readers while 60 percent of white fourth grade students don’t read proficiently. The report also indicates the percentage of Black kids’ fourth grade reading proficiency is increasing while the numbers for white kids is pretty constant. In all cases the numbers are unacceptable. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing more initiatives like the Cradle to Career Collaborative. Our public education system also fails most white students. Many of them also are not prepared for the new industries locating in our community.
When I got the latest Kids Count report its promoters said, “South Carolina achieved its highest placement to date in an annual nationwide survey of child well-being. Improvements in measures of strong families and children with health insurance placed South Carolina at 38th in the nation for child well-being. We are seeing incremental improvements over time, and this shows us that the investments we are making in children, families and communities are adding up.”
Well, forgive me if I seem pessimistic, but I try to be realistic – if I’m in a hole 10 feet deep and you give me a six-foot ladder you’ve helped. But I’m still in a hole. Our children still are in deep doo-doo. We’re not moving fast enough to improve the lives of all our children. And when I see people who so intentionally are oblivious to the reality of modern-day slave dynamics, I’m inclined to think too many of us don’t want to make those improvements.
For the past couple of hours I’ve caught hell trying to unravel the Kids Count stats. The Avery report told me things haven’t changed since the 1940s. I probably could have just used my last Kids Count story and plugged in the new numbers.