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Family Conditions Show Improvement

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WASHINGTON--Although nearly one in five children in the United States lived in poverty in 1985 and the number of households headed by women continues to rise, the condition of the American family has shown some signs of improvement over the last four years, statistics compiled by the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families show.

According to a "report card'' on American families issued by the committee this month, some 15.6 percent of white children and 43.1 percent of black children lived in poverty in 1985. But the overall poverty rate among children was slightly lower than it was in 1982.

In addition, the report says, the proportion of black elementary-school students with at least one parent who graduated from high school rose from about one-third in 1970 to two-thirds in 1985.

Update of 1983 Report

The report, an update of the committee's 1983 assessment of living conditions among America's children and their families, also notes that, while drug use among high-school seniors remained high, it declined steadily between 1981 and 1985, with the exception of cocaine use, which continued to increase.

The study examined trends in the areas of income, family arrangements, education, health, the behavior and attitudes of teen-agers, and participation in government support programs.

In a statement accompanying the statistical analysis, the committee said the updated report shows that the "dramatic shifts'' in families' social and economic conditions and living arrangements identified in the 1983 study "are not temporary phenomena.'' Rather, the panel said, those changes "have made a permanent imprint on the demographics of our society and continue to create rigorous new challenges for American families.''

The committee also noted, however, that some of the statistics represent "good news'' for families.

The report states that the number of school-age children is expected to rise from 45.1 million in the fall of 1985 to some 47.9 million in the fall of 1993. It also notes that the number of children ages 3 to 6 enrolled in nursery and kindergarten programs increased from about 4.3 million in 1970 to about 6.3 million in 1986.

Other Findings

The study also found that:

  • Almost 32 million families in 1986 were headed by females, compared with almost 29 million families in 1970.
  • In 1986, half of all married mothers with children under age 1 were in the workforce, more than twice the number working in 1970. Two-thirds of all married mothers with children between the ages of 6 and 17 were in the workforce in 1986.
  • Nearly one-third to one-half of children between the ages of 1 and 4 are not immunized against the major communicable diseases, even though nearly all school-age children are immunized by the time they enter kindergarten or 1st grade.
  • As of 1985, one out of 10 children had not seen a doctor in two or more years.
  • The number of children enrolled in preschool programs for the handicapped rose from fewer than 200,000 in 1976-77 to nearly 260,000 in 1984-85.
  • Between 1966 and 1981, the number of teen-agers who had seen a psychological counselor or therapist within the preceding year nearly doubled, with most of the increase coming from adolescents living in single-parent families or step families. The suicide rate for young people between ages 15 and 19 more than doubled between 1960 and 1984, with 1,692 youths in this age group taking their lives in 1984.
  • Between 1980 and 1986, the number of women and children participating in the federal food program for women, infants, and children increased from 2 million to 3.3 million.

The committee acknowledged that the report does not reflect regional and local differences, and that there is a shortage of national statistics on certain groups of children, including those who are American Indians, immigrants, members of homeless and displaced families, or handicapped.

Copies of the report, "U.S. Children and Their Families: Current Conditions and Recent Trends, 1987,'' can be obtained by writing the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, H2-385, House Office Building Annex 2, Washington, D.C. 20515, or by calling (202) 226-7660.

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