Iowa has far to go in supporting the well-being of children of color and children in immigrant families 

Center Focus

Iowa has far to go in supporting the well-being of children of color and children in immigrant families 


Children of color and children living in immigrant families in Iowa face persistent challenges in well-being that are hindering their opportunities for success, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report, 2017 Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children, shows a wide gulf in prosperity that continues to limit the prospects of children of color in Iowa, particularly African-American and Latino children. Asian children in Iowa are faring somewhat better, but still face more obstacles than Asian children in the U.S. as a whole.  

“Iowans are used to seeing their state appear high in national rankings. But the reality is that Iowa’s environment for children — for children in every racial and ethnic group — is at best in the middle of the pack,” said Anne Discher, interim executive director of the Child and Family Policy Center, which supports the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT initiative in Iowa. “For our communities’ economic and civic health, we need every kid to thrive, and we clearly have a way to go to get there.” 

This is the second Race for Results report; the Casey Foundation released the first report in 2014. The report measures children’s progress on national and state levels on key education, health and economic milestones by racial and ethnic groups. The report’s index uses a composite score of these milestones on a scale of one (lowest) to 1,000 (highest) to make comparisons. 

Here are the index scores for Iowa and the U.S.:

 The report includes analysis of outcomes for American Indian/Alaska Native children, but there was not sufficient data to develop a composite score for this group in Iowa. Nationally, the index score for Native children was 413.

Iowa’s composite scores compared with other states are concerning. For white children, Iowa ranks 15th among the 50 states. For Latino children, Iowa ranks 18th of 49 states for which there was sufficient data. For African-American children, Iowa ranks 19th of 44 states, and for Asian and Pacific Islander children, Iowa ranks 37th of 43 states. 

Race for Results also shines a light on well-being of children in immigrant families. More than 77,000 Iowa children are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Of those, 80 percent are children of color; nearly half are Latino. This group faces special challenges:

  • Fewer than half (49 percent) of Iowa children living in immigrant families have incomes above twice the federal poverty line, a level that allows families to meet their basic needs. 
  • Nearly one in three (30 percent) live in high-poverty neighborhoods, compared to just 12 percent of U.S.-born children. 
  • Young children in immigrant families in Iowa are enrolled in early-childhood education programs at notably lower rates (47 percent) than their U.S.-born peers (64 percent). 

Despite these barriers, children in immigrant families in Iowa continue to push forward to a better life:

  • More than eight in 10 (81 percent) of Iowa children in immigrant families live in two-parent households, a higher rate than that of U.S.-born families (74 percent).
  • Eighty-six percent of foreign-born young adults in Iowa are in school or working, close to that of U.S.-born young adults (90 percent).
  • Forty-five percent of Iowa’s foreign-born young adults (ages 25 to 29) have completed an associate degree or higher, also nearly equal to that of their U.S.-born peers (47 percent). 

The Race for Results report makes three recommendations to help ensure all children and their families have opportunities to reach their full potential:

  • Keep families together and in their communities. Immigration policies and enforcement practices should make children’s well-being central. This includes ensuring that DREAMers can stay with their families and in their communities. 
  • Help children in immigrant families meet key developmental milestones. Increasing access to early care and education for all children, as well as ensuring students are primed for higher education, are proven strategies that deliver a high return on investment. 
  • Increase economic opportunity for immigrant parents. Meaningful programs and policies that improve opportunities for low-income workers and address the needs of parents and their children simultaneously save taxpayers by reducing the costs of safety-net programs. These include assistance with employment, tax credits, food, housing and child care. 

“Making sure every kid has stability and a path to opportunity is fundamental to Iowans’ shared prosperity,” said Mike Crawford, who leads the Child and Family Policy Center’s KIDS COUNT activities in Iowa. “We really do know the effective policies and programs that would help us achieve it. What we need is the community will to act.”

The 2017 Race for Results report is available at

10/24/2017 10:18 AM |Add a comment
* denotes a required field.
Add Comment
Name: *
Comments: *
© 2019 Child & Family Policy Center. All Rights Reserved.