Fordham Institute's Index Documents Steep Decline In Children's and Youths' 'Social Health' Since

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The well-being of children and youths in the United States has declined significantly over the past 18 years, with the incidence of child abuse and teenage suicide reaching record highs, according to a report released last week.

In its annual analysis of the national "health index," the Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy determined for the first time this year a "social-health index" for children and youths.

Findings from its evaluation of a number of youth problem areas indicate, the report says, that "there is human suffering on the part of young people, and it is growing worse."

The annual index gives an appraisal of critical issues affecting the nation, based on increasing or decreasing percentage rates for each problem area studied. Numerical values from 10 to 0 are given for progress in each area, and area scores are tallied for a final score.

For the last year studied, 1987, the overall health index for children and youths was determined to be 37, said Marc L. Miringoff, author of the report. That represented, he said, a continuation of the overall downward trend since 1973, when the index was at its highest point, 72.

Mr. Miringoff noted that the social-health declines for children are of particular concern because "their manifestations are likely to plague society for many years to come."

Though many of the areas studied have been high on the public-policy agenda in recent years, he added, they have "received a lot in words and rhetoric, but not a lot in terms of national resources."

The index measured developments in six major problem areas: infant mortality, child abuse, children in poverty, teen suicide, drug abuse, and school dropouts. Four of the areas had worsened since 1970, according to the report, and two had seen only slight improvement. The area of steepest decline was child abuse.

Based on data collected by the American Association for Protecting Children Inc., the rate of reported child abuse in 1987 was shown to be more than three times what it was in 1970. Increases were recorded for each year in the period studied, a fact that may have been influenced by revised reporting procedures and increased public attention to the problem since the early 1980's.

The rate for teen suicide was found, based on data from the National Institute of Mental Health, to have doubled since 1970, reaching its highest level in 1987.

The percentage of children living in poverty has increased by 25 percent since 1970, according to the report's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In 1987, one out of every five children in the United States lived in poverty.

Mr. Miringoff called for renewed emphasis on young people in policy debates on public spending. "Emphasizing existing programs--and making sure that they are covering all who are eligible--will make a tremendous difference," he said.

The report also considered:

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showing a significant increase in youth drug activity since the early 1970's, but a leveling off of rates of drug use since 1985.

Census Bureau data showing a slight increase in the school-dropout rate in 1987, after 10 years of improvement.

The national social-health index fell, for the second year in a row, to a record low, according to the report. In 1987, it was 35, down from a 1976 high of 72.--lj

Vol. 09, Issue 09

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