Grim Data On Teens In U.s. A Report Says Young Lives Are In Increasing Peril. From 1985 To 1990, The Violent Death Rate Grew 13 Percent.

Posted: March 29, 1993

America's teenagers in 1990 were less likely to graduate from high school than they were in 1985, and more likely to contract venereal disease, become pregnant, die violently or be arrested for a violent crime, according to a new report on the nation's children.

While the nation has made moderate improvements in the well-being of younger children - such as lowering infant mortality and child death rates - living conditions for teenagers have become increasingly treacherous, according to the fourth annual "Kids Count Data Book: State Profiles of Child Well-Being," released today in Washington.

Between 1985 and 1990, the violent death rate among teens grew by 13 percent, the juvenile crime arrest rate grew by 48 percent, and the percentage of students graduating from high school declined by 4 percent. Pregnancies among single teens, meanwhile, increased 16 percent, comprising, by 1990, 9 percent of all births.

For African American teens, the figures are even bleaker.

Although the arrest rate for violent juvenile crime is increasing more rapidly among white youths, black youths are still five times more likely than whites to be arrested for a violent crime, the report said.

Although the unmarried teen pregnancy rate among whites is increasing faster, rising to 6 percent, the rate among blacks by 1990 was 20 percent, or one of every five births.

The violent death rate among youths 15 to 19 - those killed by accident, suicide or homicide - increased among both races, but white youths remained more likely to be killed in accidents. Among black youths, for whom homicide is the leading cause of death, twice as many were murdered as were killed in accidents, the report said.

Almost 20 percent of the country's children live in poverty, according to the report, and the number of children living in single-parent families grew 9 percent between 1985 and 1990. By 1990, one of every four children lived with only one parent.

"The grim trends in this year's Data Book reflect the unmistakable failure of our human service and education systems to provide adequate supports for today's adolescents, particularly in low-income communities," said Douglas W. Nelson, executive director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which prepared the report with the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

"Worsening high school graduation rates, increasing births to single teenagers, and widening exposure to community violence and crime guarantee that a large number of our young adults will enter parenthood unprepared to raise their own children," he added.

"One of the things these numbers suggest is that we really ought to get serious about preventing the preventable," Nelson said in an interview. ''They ought to make us face up to the fact that we not only have to do more for kids, but we have to change what we're already doing."

The "Kids Count" report found that 45 percent of new families started in 1990 began with at least one strike against them - a mother who was under 20, or had not completed high school, or was unmarried.

A fourth of all new families faced two of those risk factors, and one in 10 faced all three. Each one, according to the study, increases the chance that a family will break up, be poor or be dependent on public assistance, and that its children will fall behind in school.

The "Kids Count Data Book" evaluates the condition of children nationwide and state-by-state using 10 measures of child well-being. Pennsylvania ranked 22d overall among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey ranked 18th, and Delaware 34th.

The report said the nation showed improvement on only three of 10 key indicators: infant mortality, the under-14 death rate, and the percentage of children living in poverty.

The nation's overall rate of child poverty, after rising to 20 percent in 1985, dropped by the end of 1989 to just under 20 percent. For African American children, though, the poverty rate was 44 percent in 1990, four times that of white children.

The report also said that 5 percent of American teens have no "productive role in society," meaning they are not in school, don't have jobs and are not heads of households.

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