Paige Clausius-Parks, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, speaks at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick on Monday, May 15, 2023, during the Factbook Breakfast releasing the organization’s 2023 Factbook examining 70 indicators of R.I. demographics and socioeconomics.
WARWICK — Fewer Rhode Island children are living in poverty than a decade ago, but progress in improving outcomes for children of color continues to lag behind that of whites, a new report from the state’s leading children’s policy think tank finds.
The percentage of children living in poverty dropped from 20% to 15% overall between 2015 and 2021, according to the 2023 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook released Monday at a breakfast event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. The report highlights the growing diversity and inequity among children born in the Ocean State.
“Rhode Island will not prosper if we continue to leave our children of color, children with disabilities, multilingual learners, and immigrants behind,” the organization’s executive director, Paige Clausius-Parks, told an audience of 400 activists, academics, educational, and political leaders. “We call on lawmakers to prioritize equitable solutions.”
The factbook is an annual data analysis which examines 70 indicators of Rhode Island’s socioeconomic and demographic future. Among this year’s findings, 65% (6,346) of newborns born in Rhode Island in 2022 were born with socio-economic, health, or developmental indicators putting them at risk for poorer outcomes later in life.
Kids Count leadership said the factbook is meant to serve as a springboard for policy creation and discussion.
As birth rates in Rhode Island decline, almost half, some 46% of Rhode Island newborns in 2022, were babies of color.
Among children living in households with incomes below the federal poverty threshold of $23,578 for a family of three between 2017 and 2021, 10% were white. For American Indians, the percentage was 56%; Latino was 30%, Black was 25%; Asian/Pacific Islander was 12%.
Many Latinos can identify as part of any racial category.
“The idea is that data and information is power,” said Marion Orr, chair of the Kids Count Board. “We want to make sure you and everyone else in the state knows the state of children in Rhode Island.”
Many of Rhode Island’s top elected officials were at the event, including: Gov. Dan McKee, Sen. Jack Reed, Rep. Seth Magaziner, Rep. David N. Cicilline, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives K. Joseph Shekarchi, and Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee Sen. Sandra Cano.
“It’s really important we follow through on the things we’ve known,” McKee said, acknowledging that many of the disparities have been known for years. “I’m happy to be in a position to create those opportunities [for disadvantaged communities] we fully know need to happen.”
In her first factbook release since taking over the leadership of Rhode Island Kids Count in 2022, Clausius-Parks said the 2023 factbook considers the history of discriminatory policies that have contributed to the challenges children and families face today, especially when viewed through the lens of race, immigration, disability, and English language ability.
According to factbook data, births in Rhode Island declined by 18% over the 20 years between 2002 and 2022.
Searching for solutions
The event’s keynote speaker, Brown University Professor of Sociology and Education Policy John Diamond, did a deep dive on the numbers and how they are contextualized by attitudes and policy.
“We have a challenge today,” Diamond said. “Our challenges of today are deeply rooted in issues of race and equity.”
Diamond spoke on three points he said drove inequality in the states:
- Opportunity hoarding — when a dominant group uses policy and economics to keep opportunities for social advancement among themselves. Diamond said school district borders often segregate by race and income.
- Status beliefs — the association of certain characteristics with people of a certain race or economic background.
- Organizational routine — how established procedures within agencies, companies, and other organizations mask discriminatory practices.
Diamond said improvements would come when current systems were deconstructed and reconstructed with a focus on ensuring racial and social justice.
He added that people in attendance at the launch had a special responsibility to keep that in mind.
“As I look around the room,” Diamond said, “I see a lot of people who have the power to improve the lives of Rhode Islanders.”
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