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More than half of today's youths believe that life in the United States will be worse a decade from now, according to a national survey conducted for Scholastic Inc.

The poll--conducted Feb. 20 of more than 2,800 3rd- to 12th-grade students in public, private, and parochial schools--showed that only 23 percent of those polled thought life would be better 10 years from now than today. Older students were even more pessimistic; fully 64 percent of high-school students said life in 10 years would be worse.

The students polled by Chilton Research Services, a national marketing-research firm, said they were most worried about drug use (56 percent), áéäó (50 percent), and unemployment and the economy (38 percent). Only 15 percent said they worried about education.

The survey also found that older students were much more skeptical of the ability of elected officials to solve the nation's problems. Thirty-five percent of 3rd to 5th graders said that the best-qualified candidates run for President; only 12 percent of high-school students agreed. Fifty-three percent of the youngest age group said that most elected officials care about their concerns; only 17 percent of high schoolers thought so.

High-school students were especially critical of President Bush's performance. Only 8 percent of students in grades 9-12 gave Mr. Bush an A, while 46 percent of the youngest students polled did so.

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