Disparity continues to grow between white children born into affluent families and children of color born into poverty, according to the latest Kids Count in Delaware Fact Book unveiled at an event in Middletown this week.

Delaware’s population of teens and children is more ethnically and racially diverse today than any time in the state’s history.

Yet the gulf in opportunities available to predominately white children born to affluent families and children of color born into poverty is only continuing to widen, according to the latest report from Kids Count in Delaware.

“How much return would you expect to get on an investment you didn’t make,” said Kelli Thompson, president of the 20-year-old organization’s advisory board. “Unfortunately, when it comes to a growing number of our children, where investment is proven to pay great dividends, we often invest nothing to very little, particularly in children who need it the most.”

Thompson said the 226-page Kids Count Fact Book is intended to help state lawmakers, educators and health care officials make the types of investments that will help close that gap.

“Our choices do matter,” the Townsend resident said Monday during an event at Westown Movies in Middletown that marked the report’s official release. “Understanding the accurate, unbiased, current and comprehensive data provide in the fact book is the first step to identifying the best way to continue to make meaningful investment in Delaware’s children.”

According to the report, 47 percent of Delaware’s roughly 225,000 children younger than 18 are non-whites, an increase from 36 percent in 2000 and 27 percent in 1990.

Janice Barlow, the director of Kids Count in Delaware, said that mirrors a nationwide trend, which reached a milestone last year when more children of color were born in the United States than white children for the first time in history.

By 2018, children of color will make up a majority of all children in the U.S., while people of color will make up a majority of the nation’s labor force by 2030, she said.

“These changing demographics mean children of color will play an important role in this country’s future prosperity,” she said. “It also means we should be paying attention to where the data shows us there are disparities in outcomes related to race and ethnicity. These are gaps that must be addressed.”

The Kids Count report shows several areas where those disparities presently exist in Delaware, including in health and development, education and economic resources.

For instance, the state’s infant mortality rate of 8.1 deaths per one thousand births ranks above the national rate of 6.4. But infant mortality among white babies in Delaware is just 5.8, while the rate is 13.8 among black babies and 7.7 among Hispanic infants.

Black infants born in Delaware also are nearly twice as likely to be below their recommended birth weight as white and Hispanic infants.

Meanwhile, Hispanics in 2011 had the highest incidence of obesity among racial and ethnic groups in Delaware, which also mirrors a national trend, Barlow said.

The racial disparities continue as children get older and enter school, the report indicates.

While high school dropout rates have declined across all racial groups over the last decade, black students are still nearly twice as likely to drop out than white students, while black and Hispanic students are 5- to 6-percent less likely to graduate in four years than their white classmates.

Economic disparity among Delaware children also continues to grow, the report suggests.

For instance, more than 20 percent of Delaware children are currently living in poverty, more than double the percentage from just a decade ago.

More than half of the state’s public school students also currently qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

“It’s not poverty, per se, that puts children at risk,” Barlow said. “Rather it’s the lack of predictability of resources – the stress that poverty brings and the increased likelihood of early childhood adversity that contributes to poor children’s particular vulnerability.”

Barlow said previous efforts to reduce child poverty through adult employment alone have been stymied by declines in real wages for workers without a college education over the past 50 years, as well as rising rates of single parenting.

“The simple fact is that in 21st Century America it takes two incomes for most families to raise the next generation,” she said. “A two-parent household on average earns more than three times a single-parent household, and across all major racial and ethnic groups, poverty is higher among single-parent families.”

Yet more than 39 percent of Delaware children are raised in single-parent households, which is greater than the national rate of 34.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Delaware children with under-employed parents is slightly better than the national average, although both rates have been steadily rising over the last decade.

“The children born into a state of poverty really need us to be their voices and advocate on behalf of them and we need to work hard to make that playing field level as they learn and grow,” Thompson said.

Monday’s event in Middletown was the first time that Kids Count in Delaware has held a release and briefing for its annual report outside of Wilmington.

This is also the first year that the organization is making its fact book available exclusively in a digital format. To view the full report, visit www.dekidscount.org.