Many of America’s 70.4 million children are living in economic comfort but aren’t that much more healthy or prudent, according to a government report released yesterday.
“It’s a good time to be a child in America,” said Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who called children “the nation’s most precious asset” and promised increased resources for children.
Three times as many children enjoyed “very high” family incomes, more than $102,000 for a family of four, in 1999 as compared with 1980, and children are more likely to have at least one parent working.
The report by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics said a record 86 percent of children benefited from health insurance in 1999, and the adolescent death rate dropped to an all-time low. The death rate per 100,000 teens dropped from 89 in 1991 to 71 in 1998, but infant morality rates were unchanged.
“These findings represent important victories for children and adolescents,” said Dr. Duanne Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Children are less likely to live in poverty, more likely to have a parent working full-time and more likely to have health insurance.”
While the report said 8 percent of children from married-couple families experienced poverty in 1999, 42 percent of children in single-mother families suffered poverty in the same year.
During 1999, 22 percent of children lived on “low” family incomes, between $17,029 and $34,057 for a family of four.
“Over 14 percent of children in the U.S. — that’s 10 million children over 18 — did not have health insurance during the year 1999,” said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics.
The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 1999, when there were 29 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-17. However, 88 percent of teen births in 1999 were to unmarried girls, up from 62 percent in 1980.
There are “substantial racial and ethnic disparities” in adolescent pregnancies. In 1999, the teen birth rate per thousand girls ages 15-17 was 61 for Hispanics, 54 for blacks, 17 for non-Hispanic whites and 12 for Asians.
“To bolster the downward trend in the teen pregnancy rate, HHS has made more than $17.1 million in new grants available to help 49 communities develop and implement abstinence-only education programs for young people age 12 to 18,” said Mr. Thompson.
Teen-age smoking has become less common between 1999 and 2000, but alcohol and substance abuse have seen little change in the last decade. Last year, 25 percent of high school seniors reported drug use in the past month, and 30 percent admitted to five or more consecutive drinks in the past two weeks.
One of the few bright spots in the report, education is being taken seriously by today’s teen population. More high schoolers are signing up for foreign language and advanced placement classes. Eighty-six percent of young adults, ages 18 to 24, graduated high school in 1999 with lofty goals.