With notable and tragic exceptions, American children are safer, healthier and better-educated than they were in decades past, according to a new report.
The National Child and Youth Well-Being Index http://bit.ly/1yWejnE, produced annually by Duke University, finds that violent crimes and suicide rates have decreased significantly for youths since 1995, and teen births have declined steadily since 1975. Smoking and binge drinking are also down, as are households run by single parents.
The study looks at 28 key indicators to determine quality of life for children from birth to age 19. The indicators are then collected into seven groups: family economic well-being, safe/risky behavior, social relationships, emotional/spiritual well-being, community engagement, educational attainment and health.
Youth death rates, according to the report, are a third of what they were in 1975, the study’s first year.
The number of American youths who were victims of violent crimes has declined 59 percent since 1994, when 121 out of every 1,000 youths age 12 to 19 were victims of violent crimes. The numbers reached an all-time low in 2010, with 26 kids per 1,000 experiencing violent crime, and have climbed steadily since, reaching 49 kids per 1,000 in 2013.
The number of teens who gave birth in 2013 fell to 12 for every 1,000 girls age 15 to 17, an all-time low since the study began. In 1975, by comparison, about 36 out of every 1,000 girls in that age range gave birth. In 1994, 37 out of every 1,000 girls had babies, but the numbers have fallen steadily since.
Education levels are also encouraging, with high school graduation rates, bachelor’s degrees earned and preschool enrollments all on the rise.
The economic picture is not as rosy: 19.5 percent of children lived below the poverty line in 2013. That is less than 1994, when 21.2 percent of children lived in poverty. But it’s higher than 2000, when 15.6 percent lived in poverty.
It’s an encouraging study overall, indicating that our children are, on average, living in an era that will afford them a better life than a decade or two ago.
Still, it's hard to reconcile an optimistic report with news of routine school shootings, 94 of which have occurred http://bit.ly/1iLRYAk since the December 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
It’s hard to reconcile with the death of Demario Bailey, a Chicago kid who died trying to defend his twin brother from armed robbers.
It’s hard to reconcile with the story of 35-year-old Donatello Herrera, shot at a CTA stop on his way home from work — no criminal background, no gang affiliation, no motive — leaving his three kids with no father.
In many respects, we’re doing pretty well by our children — better than we’ve done in decades, in fact. But we need to do better.
Even encouraging news feels inadequate until we do.
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