- The Washington Times - Friday, July 8, 2011

The Great Recession left its mark on the lives of U.S. children, reducing the number with fully employed parents to 72 percent, a low mark not seen since 1990, according to a federal report released this week.

However, there were solid improvements in several areas of child well-being: fewer deaths by injury among children aged 5 to 19, fewer births to teens and less binge drinking by 12th graders.

These data appear in “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2011,” which is produced by 22 federal agencies in the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

The Clinton administration launched the forum to give policymakers and others easy access to the latest federal data on children in 41 areas related to population, family structure, economics, health, behavior, safety and education.

The annual reports chronicle both year-to-year changes and longer-term trends in critically important areas, said Dr. Alan E. Guttmacher, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

As usual, many indicators did not change significantly from the previous year. But Dr. Guttmacher saw two notable improvements in the new report.

“The rate of preterm births has declined for the third year in a row,” he said. The rate of births before 37 weeks’ gestation had reached a high of 12.8 percent in 2006, but dropped to 12.2 percent in 2009.

“This change is especially welcome because infants born preterm are at higher risk of early death and long-term health and developmental issues” than full-term infants, he said, adding that the goal was to see the rate reduced even further.

“We are also encouraged by the decline in the adolescent birthrate,” which in 2009 was 20.1 births per 1,000 females aged 15 to 17, Dr. Guttmacher said. This means birthrates have declined since 2007 and, except for a brief uptick in 2005-07, continue a trend that started in 1992.

Another piece of “good news” was that there were fewer injury-related deaths among children aged 5 to 19, said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, an agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decline was steepest for teens aged 15 to 19: The injury-death rate fell from 44 per 100,000 in 2008 to 39 per 100,000 in 2009, Mr. Sondik said. A major reason for that “was a decline in motor-vehicle accidents,” he said. In addition, among children ages 5 to 14, the injury-death rate fell significantly, from 6.1 per 100,000 in 2008 to 5.7 per 100,000 in 2009.

Another positive highlight was that the percentage of 12th-graders who “binged” on alcohol, or had five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting in the past two weeks, fell from 25 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2010.

However, the report also found that 21 percent of children, or 15.5 million, lived in poverty in 2009. This was higher than in 2008, when 19 percent of children lived in poverty.

The percent of children with at least one parent who worked full time all year fell to 72 percent in 2009, down from 75 percent in 2008. The last time this indicator was this low was in 1990.

Other highlights in this 15th annual report:

• A record 41 percent of all births were to unmarried women.

• Infant mortality fell, to 6.4 deaths per 1,000 births, from 6.6 per 1,000.

• Fewer children (66 percent vs. 67 percent) lived with two married parents.

• Fewer toddlers (70 percent vs. 76 percent) had all their vaccinations.

• Math and reading scores rose for both eighth- and 12th-grade students.

• Obesity was unchanged, with 19 percent of children aged 6 to 17 considered obese in 2007-08, statistically the same as 2005-2006.

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