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Infant mortality rate drops, children more likely to have working parent, be read to


Children in America are less likely to die during infancy than they were in previous years, less likely to smoke in 8th or 10th grade, and less likely to give birth during adolescence, according to the 6th annual report, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2002. The report also noted improvements in some of the economic security indicators: children are more likely to have at least one working parent and to have health insurance. Moreover, children from ages 3 to 5 are more likely to be read to daily by a family member.

The America’s Children report monitors the status of children in the United States and contains information on population and family characteristics. Most of the report’s other indicators on the well-being of the country’s children either remain unchanged from the previous year or did not change in a statistically significant manner. Among them: the child poverty rate (16 percent in 2000), the percentage of children who were adequately immunized (76 percent in 2000), the number of 12th grade students who smoked daily (19 percent in 2001) and the number of 12thgraders who said they drank 5 or more alcoholic beverages in a row in the last 2 weeks (30 percent in 2001). Although many indicators show no significant change from the previous year, they often illustrate a larger trend that took place over several years. For example, the number of 12th grade students who smoked daily has shown a downward trend since 1993.

Today’s children are more diverse than in previous years. The number of Hispanic children has been growing faster in recent years than any other group, and the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander children doubled between 1980 and 2000. In addition, the report’s special feature noted that in 2001, 19 percent of American children lived with at least one parent who was foreign born.

Among the favorable trends for America’s children was a drop in the infant mortality rate. In 1999, there were 7.0 deaths for every thousand live births. By comparison, the infant mortality rate was 7.2 deaths per 1000 live births in both 1997 and 1998.

"The drop in infant mortality is very encouraging," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Infant mortality is a stubborn, resistant problem, so even a slight decline is a victory."

Dr. Alexander noted that Healthy People 2000, a series of national health objectives published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, set a goal for reducing the infant mortality rate to 7.0 per 1000 live births by the year 2000.

"This means we have met the Healthy People 2000 goal a year early," Dr. Alexander said.

The report, compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, presents a comprehensive look at critical areas of child well-being, including economic security, health status, behavior, social environment, and education.

According to the report, the infant mortality rate has trended downward since 1983. The mortality rate for children from ages 5 to 14 also declined in 1999. According to the report, among children ages 5 to 14, unintentional injuries were the leading cause of death, followed by cancer, birth defects, and homicides. Death rates for children from ages 1 to 4 and for 15 to 19 did not change significantly.

As in previous years, the report shows that most children-82 percent overall-are in very good or excellent health. However, children living in poverty are less likely than children in higher-income families to be in very good or excellent health. Nevertheless, the gap in health status by income narrowed over the past few years. In 1984, just over 60 percent of low-income children were in very good or excellent health, but by 2000 this number had risen to 70 percent. The improvement for higher-income children was less dramatic, going from 83 to 85 percent from 1984 to 2000.

"There’s still more to be done," said Edward Sondik, Ph.D., Director of the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "but we’ve improved the chances of our poorest children to share in the advances in health we’ve experienced as a nation."

Dr. Sondik noted that the adolescent birth rate also declined. In 2000, the adolescent birth rate was 27 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17. The 2000 rate was a record low for the nation, down from 29 per thousand in 1999.

"This is extremely good news; children born to adolescent mothers are more likely to be of low birth weight-and at risk of life long disabilities-than are children born to older mothers," Dr. Sondik said. "Girls who give birth during adolescence are less likely to complete their education, which can limit their future employment prospects."

Economic Security

The percentage of children having at least one parent working full time all year increased from 79 percent in 1999 to 80 percent in 2000. The report noted that this rise is part of a long-term, steady increase, up from 70 percent in 1980.

Much of the increase in the percentage of children living with at least one parent employed full time all year was due to the increase in the percentage of children living with single mothers who are employed, which increased from 33 percent in 1993 to 50 percent in 2000, according to the report.

For 2000, the proportion of children living in poverty did not change significantly from 1999, remaining at 16 percent. The child poverty rate reached a cyclical peak of 22 percent in 1993, then declined through 1999. The current poverty rate for children is at its lowest level since 1979.

The report noted a decrease in the poverty rate for children living in female-householder families. In 1980, 51 percent of children in female householder families lived in poverty. By 2000, this figure had decreased to 40 percent.

"This change is even more pronounced for African American children," said Nancy Gordon, Associate Director for Demographic Programs at the U.S. Census Bureau. "The percentage of African American children living in female-householder families in poverty remained roughly around 66 percent until 1993 and then declined over the 1993-2000 period to 49 percent in 2000."

According to the report, the number of children living in households with child hunger dropped in 2000. In that year, more than half a million children (0.8 percent) lived in households with child hunger, down from 1.0 percent in 1998. The report explained that while some children experience hunger, many more live in food insecure households-households without continuous access to enough food to ensure an active and healthy life. In such households, adults may go hungry to allow their children to eat.

In 2001, roughly 4.1 percent of all children lived in households in which at least one person experienced food insecurity with hunger, down from 4.7 percent in 1998. In addition, 13.9 percent of all children and 35.3 percent of children in poverty lived in households that were classified as food insecure, although the children themselves did not actually experience hunger.

Behavior, Social Environment, and Education v The report’s behavioral and social environment indicators show that daily cigarette smoking among 8th and 10th graders dropped significantly. In 2000, 7.4 percent of eighth graders smoked daily, as compared to 5.5 percent in 2001. The percentage of 10th graders who smoked dropped from 14 percent to 12 percent during that time period. The rate of smoking among 12th graders did not change significantly, at 21 percent in 2000, and 19 percent in 2001.

The report’s educational trends show an increase in the proportion of children ages 3 to 5 who are read to by a family member every day in the last week, from 54 percent in 1999, to 58 percent in 2001.

"Reading to young children helps them to acquire language," said Val Plisko, Ph.D, an Associate Commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics. "Young children who are read to are also more likely to read well by the time they reach school age, and to score higher academically than are young children who are not read to" by the time they reach school age.

The report noted that the percentages of children from ages 3 to 5 who were enrolled in early childhood education centers declined, from 60 percent in 1999 to 56 percent in 2001.

"Like family reading, participation in an early childhood education program can provide preschoolers with skills and enrichment that can increase their chances of success in school," the report stated.

Population and Family Characteristics

According to the report, the ethnic diversity of America’s children continues to increase. In 2000, 64 percent of U.S. children were white, non-Hispanic; 16 percent were Hispanic; 15 percent were black, non-Hispanic; 4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander; and 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native.

The percentage of white, non-Hispanic children decreased from 74 percent in 1980 to 64 percent in 2000. During that time, the number of Hispanic children increased faster than that of any other racial and ethnic group, growing from 9 percent of the child population to 16 percent in 2000. The report projected that by 2020, more than 1 in 5 children will be of Hispanic origin.

In contrast, the percentage of black, non-Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native children have been fairly stable during the period from 1980 to 2000.

The report also contains a special feature, "Children of at Least One Foreign-Born Parent." The proportion of children living with at least one foreign-born parent increased from 15 percent in 1994 to 19 percent in 2001. In 2001, 15 percent of all children were native children living with at least one foreign-born parent, and another 4 percent of children were foreign-born children with at least one foreign-born parent.

"As a result of language and cultural barriers confronting children and their parents, children with foreign-born parents may need additional resources both at school and at home to successfully progress in school and transition to adulthood," the report stated.

Bob Bock | EurekAlert

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