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North Carolina among top states in child population gains

Demographer William H. Frey reports that our nation is split, 25-25, between states that had gains in child population and states that had declines in the number of children since 2000. North Carolina ranks near the top of the 25 states with child-population gains.

In a recent commentary in The Washington Post, Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes, “Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona come after Texas among the states recording the largest gains in their under-18 populations since 2000. In each case, minorities account for all of those increases.”

Seeing no links in The Post to Census data with details of the child-population trends, I turned to my UNC-Chapel Hill colleague Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center. She generously responded with an email, reporting that North Carolina’s under-18 population rose by 323,502 between the 2000 Census and the mid-2014 population estimate.

And, here are the details that Tippett provided to show that minorities account for the dramatic child-population increase in North Carolina:

  • 226,438 more Hispanic children in 2014 than in 2000.
  • 34,749 more Asian children
  • 15,652 more black/African-American children
  • In contrast, 2,096 fewer non-Hispanic white children in 2014 than in 2000.

In his newspaper commentary, Frey, author of the book, “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America,” argued against the idea, advanced in a case before the Supreme Court, to count only voting-age citizens rather than total population including children in drawing legislative districts. But, as Frey clearly recognizes, the implications go well beyond electoral politics.

“These generally fast-growing states contrast with the 25 states that sustained absolute losses in their number of children — slower growing, older or whiter states,” he writes. “Together, the first group of states represents the emerging training ground for tomorrow’s labor force, where state initiatives to benefit young children, and especially Hispanics, blacks and other minorities, are crucially needed.”

What’s needed, of course, are schools, as well as education policy, designed to respond to the demographic trends. And yet, North Carolina, as well as the other fast-growing states specifically mentioned by Frey, fall below the national average in the 2016 Education Week’s Quality Counts ranking of the states.

Based on three categories measuring performance and school finance, Quality Counts put the national average at C (74.4). North Carolina ranked 37th with a C-minus (70.6). Texas, Florida, and Georgia also had C-minus grades, with Arizona at D-plus.

Education policymaking, to be sure, is not insulated from the tensions and divisions illuminated in the presidential primary debates and embedded in legislative actions in North Carolina. The country is not only split, 25-25, between fast-growing and slow-growing states. It is also divided between people discomforted by demographic shifts and unnerved by the prospect that the society they have known will change, who seek to insulate themselves and their children; and people who recognize population change as a long-standing feature of American life, and who see building community and narrowing racial and ethnic gaps as challenges to be met.

To be sure, the population shifts that demographers have charted is not “breaking news” of the television variety. Frey has told the national story with compelling detail in his book. In North Carolina, James Johnson, Kenan professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, has produced a steady stream of studies and presentations, and more recently Becky Tippett has added her research and analysis.

In the 1998 State of the South report, published by MDC, the Durham-based nonprofit at which I am a senior fellow, we borrowed an Elvis Presley title — “All Shook Up” — to frame the South at the conclusion of the 20th century.

“The South heads into the 21st century with the look and feel of prosperity, but also with a sense of having been all shook up,” said that 1998 report, written before the economic downturns of the 2000-10 decade. “The cultural foundations of a society that long held rural-rooted values and operated under Faulkner’s universal truths now seem shaken … A dynamic South won’t stand still or return to isolation. A burgeoning multiethnic society will mean fresh energy and ideas, but it will also lead to new social tensions.”

In an election year amid hyper-polarization, we see tensions aplenty. Easing tensions and finding common ground are tasks too large for schools by themselves. And yet, schools have long served as vehicles for civic-democratic-economic enrichment. As a basic principal of its education policy, North Carolina needs its schools to remain strong so as to realize the national motto, E Pluribus Unum.

Ferrel Guillory
Ferrel Guillory serves on the board of directors of EducationNC and is professor of the practice emeritus at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.