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A Pre-K Call to Action for our New "Majority Minority"

  ·  Jacob Vigil

For those of us in the early childhood field, it is a familiar scene: preschool classrooms with large numbers—even majorities—of children of color.  Increasingly the norm in Illinois’ cities and suburbs, these classrooms are a snapshot of the nation’s demographic future. 

The trends fueling the growing diversity of the early childhood population have shown little sign of stopping, as newly released Census data vividly reveal. Children of color now make up half of all children age five and under for the first time in U.S. history.  And the growth isn’t slowing: Government data predict that in the next five years, the “half-and-half” statistic for of color/White children will hold true for all young people under age 18. While the difference remains small (49.9 percent of children are of color; 50.1 percent are white) demographers describe it as an initial milestone in the decline of the White population estimated to begin by the end of the decade.  These new data come on the heels of 2011 Census data showing that while the non-Hispanic White population experienced more deaths than births, the number of new births to women of color surpassed those of non-Hispanic Whites.

Within this emerging “majority minority,” Latino children are the majority, accounting for 24 percent of United States’ under-5 population. These national statistics are reflected in Illinois’ demographic realities: 26 percent of Illinois children under the age of 5 are Latino, and in Chicago, that number is almost 40 percent.

Latinos and other children of color will grow up to be the future workforce of the U.S. and Illinois; economic growth and public resources will increasingly be dependent upon their skills and earning power. And though investments in early childhood education have shown strong returns (like better classroom outcomes and career opportunities), just 1 in every 3 eligible Latino children are enrolled in preschool in Illinois. National data show that less than half of Latino 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool. As a result, these children start school up to eight months behind their peers; many never catch up. 

These population milestones highlight the urgency of the Latino Policy Forum’s work in promoting educational opportunities for and investment in Illinois’ youngest Latino learners.  It is critical that investments ensure not only high-quality, culturally responsive educational opportunities but also the supports families and children need in order to be prepared to succeed from the earliest years. Programs that target infants and toddlers are at the cusp of demographic shifts shaping our nation first-hand, making it all the more imperative that policymakers and practitioners understand the needs and concerns of the Latino community. 

Debates around polices affecting the future of our state and the nation, like Social Security and Medicaid, must consider the implications of a “majority minority” population.  In an aging country with a low “majority” birth rate, prospects for future economic growth would be much dimmer if not for the influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia in recent decades.

As the children and grandchildren of these immigrants walk into preschool and early childhood programs across the country in the coming years, they represent our future. The experiences they have in their earliest years will go a long way toward determining what that future looks like. 

Pre-K for New Majority Minority Ensures a Strong Shared Future | Infographics
Posted In: Education, Infant & Toddler Services , Preschool