My last two posts have dealt with the racial unrest in Ferguson MO and how American society should respond to the basic underlying causes. In particular Omaha NE where I live is in the process of setting up a large scale pilot project in early childhood education to better prepare children from low-income families to succeed in school.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch had a recent article “Frustration in North County Has Deep Economic Roots” pointing out, for example, that unemployment for young black men in St. Louis is 47% compared to 16% for young white men. Said the author, David Nicklaus, “If police tactics were the spark which set off the explosion in Ferguson this week, then poverty and hopelessness were the tinder. Those in charge of the police can begin the healing process, but it won’t be complete unless we tackle the deeper economic issues too.”
The Equality of Opportunity Project at Harvard University has published a chart (above) showing the degree of upward mobility for children born into low-income families in different parts of the country. Omaha ranks much higher than St. Louis but not as high as it could. The current unemployment rate in Omaha is 3.8% which essentially represents full employment. This means that there are plenty of jobs available for well qualified applicants.
However the above chart shows the extent of the achievement gap in metro Omaha between middle class children and children living in poverty. It is already substantial for fourth grade reading proficiency and becomes much worse in the higher grades. Conclusion: in Omaha NE the root cause of lack of economic opportunity for racial minorities living in poverty is not the availability of jobs but the inadequate educational achievement to hold a good job.
Omaha is a prosperous community in a prosperous state. But it could do a better job of educating children living in poverty.