Hispanics have become the largest group of children in the country after non-Hispanic whites, the Census Bureau reported Monday, in an announcement that placed a spotlight on their urgent social and economic needs.
According to the bureau, there are 12 million Hispanic children living in America, up from 9.8 million in 1990. That compares with 50.8 million non-Hispanic whites and 11.4 million non-Hispanic blacks.
Hispanic children are more likely than whites or blacks to lack health insurance, more than twice as likely as whites to drop out of school, and more likely than blacks or whites to live in poverty when someone in the household works, federal statistics show.
To deal with all of that, Hispanic child-welfare advocates announced plans Monday for an aggressive self-help strategy aimed at attracting attention to, and research on, the unique problems of Hispanic children.
“For many years, we have heard that growth trends would someday mean that Hispanics would be the second-largest population group in the nation,” said Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Services Organizations.
“For Hispanic children, that day has arrived, and it is time to address this critical mass of children who desperately need services.”
The median age of the nation’s Hispanic population is 26 years, compared with a median age for non-Hispanic whites of 35.5. In 2040, Hispanic children are projected to represent 1 in 4 pre-school-age children.
Because statistical data on Hispanic health, education and access to services have been scant at best, the coalition announced the formation of six Growing Up Hispanic Policy Centers, which will gather information on the serious needs of Hispanic children.
The centers, which are in Denver, Miami, New York, Albuquerque, San Antonio and Los Angeles, will assess and track needs of Hispanic children, and hope to release data by the end of this year, Delgado said.
The needs of Hispanic children were vividly highlighted in a study sponsored by Delgado’s organization:
Hispanic children have a higher death rate from injuries and accidents than either non-Hispanic blacks or non-Hispanic whites.
More Hispanic high school children say they fear attack when going to and from school than blacks or whites.
A far larger share of pre-school Hispanics suffered measles infections than non-Hispanic blacks or non-Hispanic whites.
Hispanic children also face greater health challenges.
Approximately 31 percent of the children of working Hispanic adults are uninsured, compared with 20.1 percent of black children and 12.1 percent of white children. Also, Hispanic children are least likely to see a physician.
And while many people believe that a large percentage of Hispanics are illegal immigrants, the Census study found that 94 percent of Hispanic children were in the country legally, though their parents might not be.
Also, Delgado noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1995 found that Hispanic teens - especially girls - were most likely to attempt suicide.
Overall, though, the “culture of invisibility” that Hispanics face exacerbates their problems.
“It’s the ultimate Catch-22,” she said. “If you don’t have the numbers, you can’t get the funding for research. But it wasn’t even until 1988 that the National Death Certificate Registry had an Hispanic identifier, so we couldn’t even tell how many Hispanic people were dying in this country.”
Delgado hopes that gathering data will be an important first start.
“The only thing that will change misguided perceptions are actual facts,” she said. “With good data, we will be able to focus on common needs, not differences.”