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The social well-being of Americans has reached its lowest point in 20 years, according to a study released last week by researchers from Fordham University.

The authors of the annual "Index of Social Health'' attempt to gauge "the country's progress in addressing its major social problems'' by looking at 16 indicators--including infant-mortality rates, the incidence of child abuse, teenage-suicide rates, and high-school-dropout rates.

In 1991, the most recent year for which data was available, the overall index dropped to 36 on a 100-point scale, its lowest point yet. Researchers have used the index to compile a rating for each year since 1970. In 1972, the best year studied thus far, the index hit 79.

One factor that pushed down the country's score in the latest index was the number of reported child-abuse cases, which has increased in nearly every year of the survey. There was a record number of such reports in 1991, the report says.

Infant mortality is one indicator that showed improvement, although such improvement has slowed, the authors said.

The Fordham researchers also released an "Index of Social Confidence,'' which they say measures how Americans evaluate the country's well-being in five areas.

In a random survey of 1,200 adults, 57 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with the quality of education in the United States, although 23 percent said they had considered changing their children's schools during the previous year.

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