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Report finds welfare of U.S. children improving

/ Source: The Associated Press

Fewer American babies are dying, kids are less likely to live in poverty and fewer youngsters are dropping out of school than in the mid-1990s.

Despite the improvements, nearly one in six young adults — 3.8 million Americans from 18 to 24 — was not enrolled in school, had no job and held no degree beyond a high school diploma in 2002, the Annie E. Casey Foundation said in its annual Kids Count report.

The report, released Thursday, shows improvements in the lives of children early this decade compared with the mid-1990s.

Between 1996 and 2001, improvements were reported in eight of the 10 indicators that the report uses to measure success. Among those measures: children in poverty, children living with a parent who lacks a secure year-round job and children dropping out of high school.

Disturbing trends found

But child advocates flagged what they called a disturbing trend — 15 percent of 18- to 24-year olds are “disconnected,” meaning not in school or the workplace. The number of those young adults grew by 700,000, a 19 percent increase over three years.

“Over 3.8 million disconnected youth face a greater likelihood of bad outcomes, now and in the future, which hold severe implications for our society,” said Douglas W. Nelson, president of the foundation, a private research and grant-making concern that focuses on children.

On the upside, 21 states and Washington, D.C., improved on at least 7 out of 10 indicators of child well-being. Thirty-five states and Washington improved on at least 6 out of 10 indicators.

The study linked some of the good news to economic growth and expansion of public programs during the period covered. The data covers years before the economy grew sluggish.

Not all indicators improved. For example, the percentage of low-birth babies increased slightly, as did the percentage of families headed by a single parent.

Most indicators show improvements

The report, based on government data, found that between 1996 and 2001:

  • Infant mortality — death during the first year — fell 7 percent, from 7.3 deaths for every 1,000 live births to 6.8 deaths. Despite national progress, the infant mortality rate increased in 11 states and went unchanged in two.
  • Child deaths declined to 22 out of every 100,000 children ages 1 to 14, from 26 per 100,000. The child death rate increased in five states — Alaska, Delaware, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Oklahoma.
  • Teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide dropped 17 percent. In 2001, there were 50 deaths per 100,000 teens, compared with 60 in 1996.
  • Births to teenagers fell in every state, leading to a record low. In 2001, there were 145,324 babies born nationwide to girls ages 15-17.
  • The high school dropout rate fell 1 percent between 2001 (9 percent) and 1996 (10 percent).
  • Child poverty fell to an all-time low of 16 percent in 2000. It fell 24 percent between 1996 and 2001, declining in nearly every state. More recent data show the rate inching close to 17 percent in 2002.

Two indicators showed negative trends.

More babies are being born dangerously underweight, weighing less than about 5.5 pounds, putting them at risk of developmental problems. In 2001, 7.7 percent of all babies were born at a low-birthweight — up from 7.4 percent in 1996.

Also, there was an increase, 4 percent, in the percent of families headed by a single parent, between the years 1996 and 2001.

The report found conditions for children the best in Minnesota, followed by New Hampshire, New Jersey, Iowa, Utah, Vermont, Connecticut, North Dakota, Massachusetts and Nebraska.

Conditions were the worst in Mississippi, then Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, South Carolina, Arizona, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina.