Angel Castro’s days teeter between determination and desperation. She is 28, impoverished, scarred from a chaotic childhood and adolescence, raising two young children alone.
She lives in a subsidized apartment in Englewood, scrambles to arrange child care that she can afford, and races to catch the bus to a part-time job that paid her $452 for one recent month.
To know the circumstances of Castro’s life is to understand something of the odds against her. Still, as she attends to her dark-haired, bright-eyed Aaron, 3, and Alexis, 17 months, she speaks with a voice that musters hope.
“I try to be the best mom I can,” she says. “I want to give my kids a chance at a healthy lifestyle. I want them to go to school, get good grades, be able to go to college and have a good future.”
Big indicator of poverty
In analyzing the widening gaps between minority groups and whites in Colorado on key measures of social progress, there are harsh realities behind the numbers. One is that among homes with children living in poverty, 68 percent are headed by one parent, typically the mother.
Single parenthood is a bigger indicator of poverty than race, according to six decades of U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by I-News Network. Combined as it often is with curtailed educational and employment opportunities, the rise of the single-parent family is a major factor in the widening disparities between blacks, Latinos and white state residents since the decades surrounding the civil rights movement.
The I-News analysis covered family income, poverty rates, high school and college graduation and home ownership as reported by the Census Bureau from 1960 to 2010. Health data and justice reports were also examined.
While the rate of single parenthood has increased among all races, its surge has been particularly dramatic among blacks. In Colorado, more than 50 percent of black households with young children are headed by a single parent compared with 25 percent of white households. Among Latino households in the state with young children, 35 percent are headed by a single parent, according to the I-News analysis.
Those figures dovetail with the growing trend of births to single women. Nationally, 29 percent of white babies are born to unwed mothers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 53 percent of Hispanic babies and â€¨73 percent of black babies are born to single mothers.
“When you talk with some of the older experienced folks of the civil rights movement, the one thing that we continue to come back to is the challenged family structure — African-Americans and Latinos — in the sense that back in the ’60s the family structure was much more solid,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said. “There were more men in the house. There were less single women trying to raise children on their own.
“The family structure has disintegrated in a sense. That challenge is real.”
While many single parents raise thriving, productive children, the growing trend of fatherless homes has enormous implications for future generations. Children raised in female-headed homes in Colorado are four times more likely to live in poverty than those from married-couple homes, according to the I-News analysis. Other studies show they are less likely to go to college or graduate high school.
Also factor in families split by domestic violence. Sandra Hernandez, executive director of Centro de la Familia in Colorado Springs, sees a lot of single Latino mothers — especially undocumented residents — who fall into poverty because they leave a violent relationship then struggle to stay afloat because it’s more difficult for them to find jobs and assistance.
“I think if you’re a minority, it’s tough. If you’re an undocumented minority, it’s tougher,” said Hernandez, who estimates that about 45 percent of Centro de la Familia’s clients are single mothers.
Some experts link the absence of fathers in the home, in part, to the rising number of black and Latino men in prisons, often for drug crimes.
In 2010, about one in every 20 black men was incarcerated in Colorado state prisons compared with one out of every 50 Latino men and one of every 150 white men, according to an I-News analysis of government figures.
The state’s black and Latino incarceration rates are higher than the national averages, where disparities also exist, according to an analysis of Bureau of Justice reports. Nationally, one of every 33 black men and one of every 83 Latino men was behind bars in 2010. Colorado’s rate for white men was equivalent to the national figure, one in 150.
“The combination of the war on crack and mandatory sentencing saw a huge sweep of black males into prison and further degeneration of the black family,” said Theo Wilson, a district director for BarberShop Talk, a mentorship organization for men.
No financial help from dads
Angel Castro’s 3-year-old son, Aaron, has lived in 10 shelters, hotel rooms and apartments. By the time Alexis was born in August 2011, Castro had landed her Englewood apartment through the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which pays all but $54 of her monthly rent.
With no financial support from the fathers of her children, Castro scrapes money together any way she can. She makes burritos to sell on city buses. She raids Dumpsters for metal and aluminum, cleans houses and has evicted deadbeat renters, trained dogs and sold her plasma.
Castro’s mother endured struggles of her own. She was just 16 when she gave birth to Angel, the first of her six children by three men. Castro says her father has eight children by five women.
Throughout her childhood, Castro lived in countless foster homes and group homes. By the time she was 12, she was living with her 22-year-old boyfriend at his house in Aurora. As a teenager, she was involved in an assault that landed her in prison.
As for the men who fathered her children, she says, “I overlooked a lot of red flags. I was searching for that bond with both of my children’s fathers and having that family I always wanted.”
Welfare’s effect debated
Nearly everyone cites the impact of welfare programs on families as a major factor in the growing divide between the races, though for different reasons. Some said cutbacks in government support disproportionately hurt minorities, while others said the system encourages dependence on government and keeps minorities and the poor from improving their future.
Former U.S. Senator Hank Brown said the welfare system rewards behavior that leads to poverty.
“Most states operate in a way so that the more children you have out of wedlock, the more money you get,” Brown said. “If you chart it, I know this is painful to hear, but if you look at the statistics on births to unmarried women, it correlates directly with the start” of welfare payments. “Then, of course, once you start the cycle, it’s hard to get off.”
But former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said welfare reform that passed under President Bill Clinton catapulted “a lot of people who were receiving government assistance off into a kind of a never-never land, which also then increased the number of disadvantaged that previously had been receiving assistance.”
This Gordian knot can be untangled, said Isabel V. Sawhill and Ron Haskins, senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, the Washington, D.C., think tank. Their 2009 book called “Creating an Opportunity Society” advocates increased educational opportunities for children from preschool on, encouraging and supporting work among adults and reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births while increasing the number of children raised by their married parents.
‘A whole chaotic life’
For now, Angel Castro’s days revolve around trying to figure out how to feed and clothe Aaron and Alexis. She threw a small party a few months ago for Alexis’ first birthday and was relieved when she got gifts of diapers and wipes rather than toys.
She used to count herself lucky to have a neighbor who watched her children for $20 a week so that she could work. But Castro had to give up her position after her sitter got a better-paying job.
Castro is frustrated by the endless rules and paperwork of a welfare system she believes is “built to set you up for failure.” She said she has only four hours per day of government-supported child care, which means she can’t work full time.
She sometimes thinks the only solution is to put Aaron and Alexis in foster care and hope for a better fate for them than she experienced.
“I’ve had a whole chaotic life, feeling hurt and angry with my whole situation,” Castro said. “I don’t want my kids feeling like I felt growing up.”
Gazette reporter Barbara Cotter contributed to this report.
Contact Ann Carnahan Espinola at firstname.lastname@example.org. â€¨I-News intern Leia Larsen contributed to this report, which was made possible, in part, by grants from The Colorado Health Foundation and the French-American Foundation.
A FOUR-DAY SERIES
This is the second of a four-day series about racial and ethnic disparities in Colorado.
Tuesday: The changing economy is a root source of growing inequities.
Wednesday: Hispanics and blacks in Colorado have not equally enjoyed the benefits of health care advances.
The project has been assembled as a 128-page e-book in PDF format. The e-book includes stories, graphics, a selection of photos and more. Download at â€¨www.inewsnetwork.org.
• The I-News Network at Rocky Mountain PBS is a nonprofit investigative news service that focuses on investigative reporting. Its funding comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the McCormick Foundation, The Fund for Investigative Journalism and others. I-News, founded in 2009, this month merged with Rocky Mountain PBS and public radio station KUVO. Learn more about I-News at www.inewsnetwork.org.
• I-News and The Gazette will host a community conversation about the findings of the Losing Ground project 5:30-7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Tim Gill Center for Public Media in Colorado Springs, 315 E. Costilla St. For information, call Keanna Smith, 418-5851. Other such events are planned along the Front Range.
Single parents and families can find information on parenting classes and assistance with rent, food, clothing and other necessities by calling the United Way 2-1-1 help line. Some agencies that specialize in parenting education include:
• Centro de la Familia, 227-9170: Counseling, parenting classes, advocacy and referral services for the Latino population.
• El Paso County Public Health, 578-3199: The Nurse-Family Partnership sends nurses to the homes of first-time, low-income parents, beginning when a woman is pregnant, to provide help with health and social issues, including parenting skills; the Strong & Healthy Families program educates new mothers about fetal and child development, financial management, goal setting and problem solving.
• Kids’ Resource Network of Colorado Springs, 227-7477: Parenting classes and an in-home family preservation program.
• Center on Fathering, 634-7797: Classes and programs to help men become better fathers. Services include education
training, support groups and referrals to other resources.
• Marian House, 866-6283: Free Love & Logic parenting classes. Call for dates and times.
• Family Connections, 520-1019: Nurturing parenting programs; respite child care through KPC Kids Place for stressed parents who need a break.