While child lead-poisoning problems have spurred concerns nationwide, new data from 23 federal agencies that work with children suggests children’s physical environments have become healthier and their homes more supportive, but both still show room for improvement.
The report “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being,” tracks longitudinal data on more than 40 benchmarks in children’s education, family supports, health, physical safety, and behavior for the nation’s more than 73.6 million children from birth through age 17. It found U.S. children gaining ground in family supports such as income and parent involvement in education, but also in physical safety and health at home.
Overall, only 1 percent of children nationwide showed an elevated level of lead in their blood (defined as 5 micrograms of lead or more for every deciliter of blood.) That’s a historic low, and down from 26 percent of all children in 1994.
Air pollution remains a more widespread problem. Nearly 60 percent of children in 2015 lived in counties with air pollution—often from ozone—that exceeded national air-quality standards, a decline from more than 75 percent a decade ago.
The percentage of children exposed to secondhand smoke also has continued to fall, from more than 60 percent in 2003-04 to 40 percent in 2011-12, but poor children are twice as likely to show chemicals associated with secondhand smoke in their blood, 65 percent of poor children versus only 31 percent of their more well-off peers. For lead exposure, secondhand smoke, and air pollution generally, black children were more likely to be exposed than their white or Hispanic peers.
Moreover, school-age children were more likely than ever to avoid smoking themselves; the percentage of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders who reported smoking daily in the past month during 2016 were all the lowest on record, at 5 percent or less.
Stronger Economic Footing
More than a third of both renting and home-owning families lived in housing that was either physically inadequate, overcrowded, or that cost more than a third of their annual income. In particular, more than half of low-income renters use more than a third of their income for housing.
In spite of housing costs, families with children may have been on a slightly better economic footing. One in 5 children in that age group live in poverty, and only 5 percent lacked health insurance as of 2015, both declines from the previous year. And based on a separate Supplemental Poverty Measure—which takes into account the federal benefits that families may receive, such as school food subsidies or child tax credits, as well as additional costs like out-of-pocket medical expenses—16 percent of U.S. children lived in poverty, 4 percentage points lower than the official child-poverty rate:
The report also found that even for families in poverty, parents provided more educational support for their children. More than 70 percent of preschool-age children whose parents had not graduated from college still read with their families at least three times a week, up from less than 60 percent in 2007.
Chart Source: ChildStats.gov
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.