Lack of Progress on Child Health, Well-Being Assailed

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Characterizing the 1980's as a "decade of destruction" for children, a new report documents substantial increases in the numbers of children living in poverty, giving birth as unmarried teenagers, and suffering violent deaths.

In addition, the nation made little or no progress in stemming the proportion of low-birthweight babies or boosting high-school graduation rates, notes the "Kids Count Data Book," prepared by the Center for the Study of Social Policy with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

"Violence and poverty, poor health, teen parenthood, and school failure dim the future of millions of children," says the report, which charts national and state progress on eight measures of child and adolescent health, education, social, and economic well-being.

The report rates Vermont as the furthest ahead on a composite of those measures and the District of Columbia as the furthest behind.

The report points out that Vermont was the only state that by the end of the 1980's had already met goals set by the U.S. Public Health Service to stem infant-mortality and child-death rates by the year 2000. Minnesota was the only state already meeting the goal of a 90 percent high-school graduation rate by 2000 set by the nation's governors and President Bush.

By 1989, the report says, more than 12 million children, or 20.1 percent, were growing up in poverty, up from 16 percent in 1980. While the share of children in poverty rose in 41 states and the District of Columbia, seven states--Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont--saw declines in that percentage.

The report also showed that black and Hispanic children are far more likely to be poor than white children, but that the rate of white and Hispanic child poverty grew far more rapidly than that of black children in the 1980's. The proportion of white and Hispanic children in poverty increased by 36 percent and 31 percent, respectively, while the share of black children in poverty rose by 16 percent.

Births to unmarried teenagers rose from 271,801 in 1980 to 322,406 in 1988, with about 40 states report ing an increase in out-of-wedlock births to teenagers over the decade.

While Southern states generally had the highest percentages of births to unmarried teenagers, the greatest increases were reported in Western states.

The report showed the incidence of teenagers dying violently as a result of accident, suicide, or murder increased by 12 percent between 1984 and 1988, with 33 states and the District of Columbia showing rates higher than the national average.

Reversing the pattern that held early in the decade, black teenagers--whose rate of death by vio lence rose by 51 percent between 1984 and 1988--were far more like ly to die violent deaths than white teenagers by the decade's end, ac cording to the report.

While 33 states and the District of Columbia saw some improvement in their high-school graduation rates in the 1980's, the report de cried the lack of "substantial improvements." It noted, for example, that the national high-school gradu ation rate made only a 2 percent im provement--from 69.7 percent to 71.2 percent--from 1982 to 1988.

"This small increase did not keep pace with the increase in per-pupil expenditures over the same period," which, when adjusted for inflation, rose by 26 percent, the report noted.

Other indicators in which progress was said to be "stalled" over the decade were the percent of low-birthweight babies--which increased slightly--and health-insurance provision for children, one in five of whom still has no public or private coverage.

On an encouraging note, the re port showed infant-mortality rates improved in every state between 1980 and 1988, and the rate of death for children ages 1 to 14 fell in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

It noted, however, that a black baby is still twice as likely as a white baby to die during the first year of life, and that, at the current rate of progress, the nation is not likely to meet the Public Health Service's target goal for reducing infant mor tality by the year 2000.

At a presentation on the data book by the Center for the Study of Social Policy last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation announced the award of $350,000 in grants to help eight states produce annual profiles on the condition of children.

The grants, awarded to children's organizations and state agencies in Arizona, California, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Carolina, are de signed to improve data collection on child well-being, make such infor mation more accessible to policykers and the public, and aid in strategies to "improve outcomes for children."

The foundation also awarded a $150,000 grant to the filmmaker Roger Weisberg for a film on chil dren in poverty to air on the Public Broadcasting Service.

For more information on the "Kids Count Data Book," contact the Center for the Study of Social Policy, 1250 I St., N.W., Suite 503, Washington, D.C. 20005.

Vol. 10, Issue 20, Page 9

Published in Print: February 6, 1991, as Lack of Progress on Child Health, Well-Being Assailed
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