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Is Our Racial Gap Becoming a Generation Gap?


Is Our Racial Gap Becoming a Generation Gap?

By Angela Glover Blackwell
Founder and CEO, PolicyLink

America's Generation Gap from PolicyLink on Vimeo.>

Source: PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), Copyright 2011

Since our founding, older Americans have sacrificed significantly to ensure that future generations grow up in a nation rich with promise and opportunity.

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But now, with talk of cutbacks to education, Medicaid, public transportation, and critical infrastructure, many are reneging on this historical commitment, calling instead for the "opportunity ladder" to be pulled up entirely.

What is the reason for this sudden divide?

The answer may be nothing more complex, or disheartening, than America's rapidly changing demographics.

We know that by 2042, people of color will be the majority in America. Already nearly half (46.5 percent) of our nation's young people are of color, while more than 80 percent of seniors nationwide are white.

It seems that this dramatic gap has transformed our nation's unaddressed racial divide into a generational divide.

For the first time, America's seniors, business leaders, and elected officials simply do not see themselves in the faces of today's young. For many, this signals less obligation and commitment to the kinds of programs and resources that would help provide a boost for the next generation.

We're seeing this now with blocks and cuts to public education and sensible programs like Pell Grants, YouthBuild, Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and the DREAM Act, all of which would provide America's youth with the tools and resources they need to compete and succeed in today's global economy.

It's no wonder that the places where this divide is most pronounced – like Arizona – have become ground zero for racial tension and anti-immigrant sentiment, with older voters begrudgingly "protecting" their entitlements at the expense of programs that serve young people, particularly those in low-income areas and communities of color.

And yet, this kind of stingy, self-interested policymaking hurts not just those who are African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American but the future of all young people, including those who are white. The white urban-dwelling family that wants to send a child to public school is faced with the consequences of underinvestment. The young white worker seeking to rely on public transportation is disappointed. The impact of the racial divide extends beyond communities of color.

We cannot allow this to continue.

Without targeted, meaningful investments in our public schools, higher education, workforce development, and job creation programs – as well as in the infrastructure and public transportation that make access to each possible – we will all be left behind.

Thankfully, new and innovative policies are underway which will help strengthen nationwide efforts to build communities of opportunity in which everyone can prosper. This week, the Obama Administration launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative to foster local innovation and entrepreneurship in our nation's cities. And earlier this month, it was announced that $30 million is now available to continue funding the federal Promise Neighborhoods program, which would wrap poor children across the country in education, health, and social supports from the cradle-to-college-to-career.

Programs like these will help lay the foundation for a truly equitable and sustainable future for our nation.

But for us to cross the finish line, we must first see ourselves in the faces of America's tomorrow.