The federal government’s initial attempt to assess the overall well-being of America’s youth produces a “mixed picture,” with positive developments in health and education offset by trends for drug use, smoking and violent crime.
The report, the first in an annual series ordered by President Clinton to show parents and policy-makers how U.S. children are faring, cites steady improvement in such key areas as nutrition, mortality and educational attainment.
At the same time, it calls attention to growth in illicit drug use and cigarette smoking among teen-agers, increasing numbers of children raised in single-parent households and more deaths among youth - particularly black males - as a result of violent crime.
Among the report’s key findings:
As of last year, 68 percent of the nation’s children lived with two parents, down from 85 percent in 1970. Among white, non-Latino children, 75 percent lived with two parents, compared to 33 percent of black children and 64 percent of Latino children. However, the rate of decline in two-parent families has been roughly the same for all these groups.
The percentage of all births to unmarried mothers has risen significantly, up from 5 percent in 1960 to 32 percent in 1995.
Among low-income families, the percentage of children under 18 reporting there is sometimes or often “not enough to eat” has decreased from 13 percent in 1989 to 8 percent in 1994.
In 1995, 81 percent of pregnant women received prenatal care in their first trimester, the highest level in the nation’s history.
Infant mortality has decreased substantially, from 12.6 deaths per 1,000 births in 1980 to 7.5 deaths per 1,000 in 1995.
Mortality among young people has held steady or decreased among all ages and racial and ethnic groups, with the exception of black males aged 15-19. The death rate for this group has risen from 125.3 deaths per 100,000 in 1985 to 234.3 per 100,000 in 1994. The main reason for the sharp increase: a threefold jump in firearm-related deaths among black male teens since 1985.
Among all youths, the number who are victims of violent crime has increased from 79 per 1,000 in 1980 to 118 per 1,000 in 1994.
Regular cigarette, alcohol and illicit drug use is gradually rising among 12th-graders. Since 1993, those reporting smoking daily increased by 3 percent, those drinking more than twice a month rose by a like amount and those using illicit drugs at least once a month increased by 7 percent.
The rate of high school graduation has held steady at about 85 percent since 1980. Among blacks, the rate has increased substantially, from 75 percent in 1980 to 85 percent in 1995.
The rate of college graduation among high school graduates has increased from 22 percent in 1971 to 31 percent in 1996.
In 1996, one-third of all U.S. children were of minority racial groups, up from one-fourth in 1980.
The report touted the increase in food availability for low-income children, saying this development not only reduces the reliance of families on emergency feeding programs, but also of “scavenging or stealing.”
But the report, produced by a consortium of federal agencies that collect data on children and families, decried the trend of increased numbers of births to unmarried women.
The report called this one of the significant “changes in American society” that is directly linked to the prevalence of child poverty.