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E.D. Draws Statistical Portrait of U.S. Youth

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Washington--A new report from the Education Department paints a statistical portrait of the nation's 42 million teenagers and young adults that confirms some negative academic and social trends but also offers encouraging signs of progress.

Although the report draws no conclusions from its more than 100 charts and graphs, it goes beyond previous department publications in compiling such "indicators" of the well-being of youths as employment and education levels, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as demographic data.

Most of the information in the book, Youth Indicators 1988 was published previously by the department or other government agencies.

The report, to be issued annually, is intended as an objective source of information "for people concerned with policy for young people," according to Chester E. Finn Jr., the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

Speaking at a press conference here, Mr. Finn accentuated the positive nature of many of the statistics. For example, he cited data showing that more teenagers are graduating from high school, that fewer are using alcohol and marijuana, and that the rate of births among unmarried minority teenagers has decreased in the past 15 years.

"There is a popular conception that the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket," Mr. Finn said. "I think the data here show that that is not the case."

At the same time, he asserted, the data on academic achievement support the belief that "the skill level of kids coming out of school is abysmal."

Differences Cited

The 137-page report, focused on 14- to 24-year-olds, contains 55 indicators in five areas: demographics and family composition; family income; education; employment and finances; and health, behavior, and attitudes. Each indicator is examined by means of a chart, graph, and brief written statement.

The report documents continuing differences in educational attainment and socioeconomic factors among population groups. For example:

Black and Hispanic youths continue to trail whites in their rates of high-school completion. In 1986, 13.6 percent of white adults ages 25 to 29 had not completed four years of high school, compared with 16.7 percent of blacks and 41 percent of Hispanics. On the other hand, the data show, the percentage of black young adults who had not finished high school showed a sharp drop from its 1970 level of 43.8 percent.

Among all young Americans, blacks and Hispanics have made the greatest gains since 1975 in reading proficiency and mathematics achievement. But they do not yet match the performance of white students.

From 1970 to 1985, the birth rate for unmarried minority teenagers8decreased from 91 births per 1,000 to 79 births per 1,000. The birth rate for white unmarried teenagers nearly doubled, to 21 births per 1,000.

Black high-school seniors in 1985 were five times as likely as white seniors to devote most or all of their earnings to meeting family expenses.

Changing Behavior

Other demographic data in the report document that:

Young people in their 20's are living with their parents longer, marrying later, and earning less money in proportion to older workers than was the case 10 and 20 years ago.

The percentage of children living in single-parent homes more than doubled in two decades, from 10 percent in 1965 to 21 percent in 1985.

The annual rate of divorces is leveling off, up only 15 percent from 1975 to 1985, in contrast to a 116 percent jump between 1965 and 1975.

More high-school seniors were in agreement with their parents in 1985 than in 1975 on such topics as the value of education, roles for women, racial issues, and career choices.

Auto accidents remain the leading cause of death of all young people. Although the total death rate for the young has decreased since 1970, especially for black teen-agers, the suicide rate for males ages 15 to 19 has increased.

Copies of the report are available for $7 each from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The stock number is 065-000-00347-3. For more information, call the g.p.o. order desk at (202) 783-3238.--k.g.

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