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Gap Between Black and White Children's Well-Being Said Widening

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Washington--The gap between black children and white children is widening on a variety of measures of societal and personal well-being, charges a new report.

Black children are increasingly more likely than white children to be born into poverty, to live in substandard housing, to be unemployed as teen-agers, and not to attend college after high-school graduation, according to the report, released last week by the Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"Our principal conclusion is that black children are sliding backwards," notes the report, "Black and White Children in America: Key Facts." To reverse that pattern, the report recommends Congressional adoption of the House's current budget proposal and the recently introduced "Children's Survival Bill," and a comprehensive attack on teen-age pregnancy.

The cdf report supports many of the findings of a study released two weeks ago by the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office. That report con-cluded that the number of children living in poverty--13.8 million in 1983--has reached the highest level since the mid-1960's.

The Congressional study also noted that family characteristics and race have a "profound impact" on poverty rates. Half of all black children and one-third of all Hispanic children are poor, it noted, compared with one-sixth of all white children. (See Education Week, May 29, 1985.)

The Congressional study was based on analyses of Census Bureau data; the cdf analysis was derived from data from the National Center for Health Statistics and several other sources, including the Census Bureau.

Most of the cdf data are from 1984, when there were 62.1 million children under age 18 living in 30.8 million families in the United States. Some 15.1 percent of the children and 10.6 percent of the families were black, while 81.5 percent of the children and 87.0 percent of the families were white.

'Continuing Inequality'

According to Marian Wright Edelman, president of the cdf,6statistics contained in the report "draw a portrait of the continuing inequality that denies opportunity to millions of black children." Among those cited:

8 out of every 10 white children live in two-parent families, compared with 4 out of every 10 black children.

About 67 percent of America's black children have an employed parent, compared with 86 percent of white children. Black children are more than twice as likely as white children to have no employed parent and almost four times as likely to have no parent in the labor force.

Approximately 2 out of 5 black children are growing up in families whose heads did not complete high school, which is twice the rate for white children. White children are almost four times as likely as black children to live in families headed by college graduates.

Black children score lower on reading tests and are poorer readers than white students, and they are twice as likely as white students to be suspended from school and subjected to corporal punishment. Black Children are also far more likely than white students to be behind in school.

The unemployment rate of young black college graduates is almost as high as that of white high-school dropouts. And more than half of black high-school dropouts are unemployed.

Black children are three to four times as likely as white children to be murdered.

Pregnancy and Mortality

The disparities between black and white children are especially evident, according to the report, in the area of teen-age pregnancy and infant mortality.

For the first time in over a decade, the black infant-death rate increased in 1983. According to Ms. Edelman, "Almost 6,000 black babies die each year because we have not yet taken the steps to provide preventive health care and family supports for mothers and children--steps we know will help bring black infant-mortality rates down to the level of white rates."

The report also said that in each month of 1982, almost 3,000 girls ages 15 and younger gave birth. Almost 6 out of 10 of these births were to black teen-agers. Births to unmarried teen-agers occur five times more often among blacks than among whites.

Adding to the risks, one of every 10 black women receives prenatal care only in the last trimester of pregnancy or none at all, it notes. Among black teen-age mothers under age 15, 2 in 10 receive no prenatal care or last-trimester care only. Almost 60,000 babies are born annually to teen-age mothers who receive late or no prenatal care.

More than 55 percent of all births to black women in 1982 occurred out of marriage, the report notes. Among black women under the age of 20, the proportion rose to more than 86 percent. For 30 years, out-of-marriage ratios have increased steadily, reaching levels that "essentially guarantee the poverty of black children for the foreseeable future," the report says, because young mothers under age 25 who head families are very likely to be poor, and black female-headed families are much more likely to stay poor.

Three Recommendations

To address these disparities between black and white children, the cdf report calls for three avenues of action.

First, it states, the Congress should make no new budget cuts in programs serving poor children and should restore successful preventive programs that have been cut since 1980. The cdf, the report notes, strongly favors the House budget, which, unlike the Senate proposal, does not seek to cut child-nutrition, health, youth-jobs, and family-income programs.

Second, the report calls for the enactment of the "Children's Survival Bill," which was introduced last week by Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. The legislative package includes provisions designed to combat teen-age pregnancy and the problem of school dropouts, as well as tax relief for poor working families.

The bill, Ms. Edelman said, is "a comprehensive blueprint for federal investment in health, nutrition, education, and other vital programs designed to bolster the self-sufficiency of our nation's children, youth, and families."

In addition, the cdf calls on citizens, community organizations, and policymakers to place "the highest priority" on preventing adolescent pregnancy and on securing prenatal care for low-income mothers.

"It will take strong and informed citizen action to redirect the perverted national spending priorities that permit so many American children to go hungry and die needlessly for lack of preventive care," Ms. Edelman said. "We must begin to translate the American dream into daily individual and collective deeds that, over time, will change the portrait of continuing inequality in this report."

Copies of the 128-page report are available for $9.95 from the Children's Defense Fund, 122 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.

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