July 17 - 23, 2000
      Childhood Mortality, Teen Birth Rates Drop

      The report found that American children are less likely to die during childhood, less likely to live in poverty, less likely to be at risk for hunger and less likely to give birth during adolescence than in previous years. 

      The birth rate for teenagers reached a record low of 30 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 in 1998, showing a steady decline from the rate of 39 per 1,000 in 1991. The sharpest decline was in the birth rate for black, non-Hispanic girls ages 15 to 17, for whom the rate dropped by nearly one-third from 1991 to 1998.

      The leading cause of death for children was unintentional injuries, many resulting from motor vehicle crashes. Over two-thirds of children age one to 14 whose deaths were attributed to motor vehicle crashes in 1997 were not in car seats or wearing safety belts at the time of the crash.

      The adolescent death rate also continued to decline in recent years, but not as rapidly as did the rate for children. Major causes of death for teenagers included injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes and firearms.

      The report was compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a consortium of 20 Federal agencies that gather data on children. The report provides a comprehensive look at critical aspects of child well being, such as economic security, health, behavior and social environment and education.

      The poverty rate for children related to the householder dropped from 19 percent in 1997, to 18 percent in 1998. The childhood poverty rate has declined steadily since 1993, when it was 22 percent. Children living in poverty are more likely to have difficulties in school and to become teen parents than are children living above the poverty level. As adults, children from impoverished backgrounds tend to earn less than other adults and are more often unemployed.

      Among children living with single mothers, 33 percent had mothers who were working in 1993, compared with 44 percent in 1998. In addition, the percentage of children who live with their parents and have at least one parent working full-time all year increased from 76 percent in 1997 to 77 percent in 1998. The increase was greatest among children living in poverty and in families headed by single mothers.

      There was also a decline in the percentage of children experiencing food insecurity with moderate or severe hunger. This indicator measures the number of children at risk for not getting enough nourishment for an active, healthy life. The percentage of food insecurity dropped from 4.7 percent in 1998 to 3.8 in 1999. The decline in the percentage of children living in food insecure households with moderate or severe hunger between 1998 and 1999 was most pronounced among children living in poverty, from 14.2 percent in 1998 to 11.8 percent in 1999.

      In 1999, 20 million – 54 percent – of children from birth through grade three were enrolled in childcare, up from 51 percent in 1995. This measure included children in a variety of childcare situations, from care in a home to care in an organized center.

      Between 1996-1999, the percentage of children from ages three to five who had not yet entered kindergarten, but were enrolled in early childhood education programs, increased from 55 percent to 59 percent. Black, non-Hispanic children were more likely to be in early childhood education programs (73 percent) than were white, non-Hispanic children (59 percent) or Hispanic children (44 percent). The report noted that participation in early childhood education programs can increase the likelihood of later educational success.

      The childhood immunization rate has also steadily improved with 79 percent of children ages 19-35 months receiving the combined vaccination series in 1998, up from 76 percent in 1997.

      The 1998 infant mortality rate of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births remained the same as the previous year, despite the substantial decline in infant mortality rates over the past several decades. One factor closely associated with infant mortality is low birth weight (less than 5.5 pounds), and the percentage of low birth weight infants has risen slowly each year since the mid-1980s. Very low birth weight infants (less than 3,3 pounds) are at greatest risk of death and the number of very low birth weight infants has also been steadily moving upward. The report noted that the increase in low birth weight is due in part to the dramatic increase in multiple births in eth United States.

      In 1999, the percentage of children from age three to five who were read to by family members returned to levels observed in 1993 (about 53 percent) after increasing to 57 percent in 1996. According to the report, family reading is correlated with later reading comprehension and greater school success. The report also said that family reading was more common among mothers with higher education levels.

      The rate of serious violent crimes committed by young people continued to decline. In 1998, the offending rate for youth was 27 crimes per 1,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17. The rate dropped by more than half from the 1993 high, and was the lowest recorded since data were first collected in 1973. Also declining was the rate of serious violent crimes against youth, which was 25 per 1,000 in 1998, down from the peak of 44 per 1,000 in 1993. The pronounced drop in rates for both indicators, while not statistically significant from 1997 to 1998, represents a continued decline.

      This year’s report also noted that 70.2 million children under age 18 live in the US, about 26 percent of the population. The racial and ethnic diversity of America’s children has continued to increase in recent years. For 1999, 65 percent were white, non-Hispanic, 15 percent were black, non-Hispanic, 4 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander and one percent were American Indian or Alaska Native. Of all ethnic groups, the proportion of Hispanic children has grown the most rapidly, from 9 percent in 1980 to 16 percent in 1999.

      Although this year’s report cites positive changes for most ethnic and racial groups, significant disparities remain among racial and ethnic groups for a number of measures. Such disparities include income distribution, access to health care, infant mortality and the adolescent birth rate.

      America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being is issued by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. The report is available from the Forum’s Website at www.childstats.gov or through the National Maternal and Child Health Clearinghouse, 2070 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 450, Vienna, Virginia 22182, number 703.356.1964, email nmchc@circsol.com

      Information about OJJDP publications, programs and conferences is available through the OJJDP publications, programs and conferences is available through the OJJDP Website at www.ojjdp.ncjrs.org and from OJJDP’s Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse, Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20857. The toll-free number is 800.638.8736.

      Information about other Office of Justice Programs (OJP) bureaus and programs offices is available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov. 

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