The Roma make up Europe’s largest and poorest ethnic group, with three-quarters of their estimated 10 to 12 million people living in poverty, and fewer than one in three having a job. The Roma are also much younger than the general population, with 30 percent under age 15-which can be a real boon, considering the latest demographic trends. But a Roma child’s chance at a good life starts to decrease very early.
A recent regional study that focused on Roma and non-Roma in nearby communities from five Eastern European countries finds between 28 and 45 percent of Roma children attend preschool in four of the five study countries. However, the Roma preschool rate jumps to 76 percent in Hungary, where targeted policies have been in place; and this is about the average for non-Roma preschool rates across the five countries. Hungary’s experience offers promise because surveys show that preschool matters greatly to completing secondary school and staying off social assistance.