Guest blog post by Christina A. Samuels
Teenagers in the “Generation Z” cohort—those born after 1995— are healthier and on more solid ground educationally than teenagers were a few years ago, despite living through a widespread economic downturn, says the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which released its 2016 Kids Count Data Book Tuesday.
The data book examines 16 areas of child well-being in the six-year time period of 2008 to 2014. Those areas are grouped into four major themes: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Over the time period studied, national data showed that teen birth rates fell 40 percent, teens abusing drugs and alcohol dropped by 38 percent, and teens not graduating from high school on time decreased by 28 percent, according to the foundation.
But the foundation’s research also found some indicators for children that have been hard to budge. For example, the child poverty rate remained the same as last year, at 22 percent. And wages for families have not yet returned to pre-recession levels; in 2014, the median income was 13 percent lower than in 2004.
The data book also showed that a college degree is necessary for most middle-income positions. Among recent high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 28 percent for African-Americans, 17 percent for Latinos, and 15 percent for whites. Those with jobs earned, on average, $10.66 an hour, a salary that is less than what high school graduates earned in 2000, when adjusted for inflation.
“This generation of teenagers and young adults are coming of age in in the wake of the worst economic climate in nearly 80 years, and yet they are achieving key milestones that are critical for future success,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, in a statement. But, he added, “With rising higher education costs, stagnant wages and a flimsy social safety net, teens are less likely than their parents or grandparents to obtain economic security.”
In addition to the national figures, the data book also ranks states in these four domains and overall. The top five states overall, in order, are Minnesota, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, which is new to the top five this year. This is Minnesota’s second year in a row as the top-ranked state overall, and the seventh time it has held the top spot since the foundation started analyzing data in 1990.
The overall rank for Minnesota, however, obscures data that shows black, Asian, Latino, and American Indian children in that state are still facing challenging circumstances in terms of economic security.
“It’s evident that recent state and local investments that support children and families, especially policies and programs that increase family economic success and health care coverage and access, are paying off in improved outcomes for many Minnesota children,” said Bharti Wahi, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, in a statement. “However, we cannot be content with a high ranking that masks chronic inequities for children of color in our state.” Nationally, children and youth in those ethnic groups also lagged in many indicators behind their white peers.
The lowest-ranked states overall, in order, are Alabama, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi. Alabama is also new to the bottom five this year.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.