Across the country, 80 percent of senior citizens are White, while nearly 50 percent of the nation’s youth are of color. Such significant age disparities, some experts on race relations say, may be having far-reaching implications on resources invested in programs and areas benefiting younger generations.
“Where the old don’t see themselves reflected in the young, there’s less investment in the future,” says Manuel Pastor (pictured left), a professor of geography and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California where he directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity.
For instance, Pastor says states with significant age gaps between White and nonwhite populations tend to spend the least on education and public transportation.
To illustrate this point, Angela Glover Blackwel (pictured below), founder and CEO of PolicyLink, cites California and Mississippi. Through slavery and restrictive Jim Crow laws, she says, Mississippi consistently underinvested in the Black community. Today, Blackwell says, it consistently ranks on or near in the bottom in terms of education spending and has the nation’s highest infant mortality rate. Forty is the median age for Whites in Mississippi, 29 for Blacks and 25 for Latinos, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
In California, public policy priorities have changed as the White population has aged. In the 1950s, when White families arrived from the Midwest in search of jobs, California built the nation’s best educational system. There were generous investments in the state’s infrastructure and programs to help families become homeowners. The state became a poster child for the benefits of public sector spending.
Today, California has a considerable age gap between White and nonwhite residents. The median age for Whites is 43, for Blacks 34 and for Latinos 27, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Furthermore, Blackwell says 60 percent of its over-65 population is White while children of color comprise 70 percent of the state’s 18-and-under population.
Beset with budget issues, California now hovers in the lower rungs of per-child spending on education, ranking 43rd nationally. It also ranks in the bottom quarter of all states in transportation funding, according to the Applied Research Center.
“You’re starting to see the same approach that held back states like Mississippi holding back states like California,” Blackwell says. “California is the harbinger. Mississippi should have been the lesson.”
But Pastor says such fear becomes counterproductive. “It’s not just kids of color that are hurt when you don’t invest in education,” he says. “It’s young White families that are afraid to move back to the cities because of the schools. We’re really damaging a whole generation of possibilities.”