These days, when it can seem at times that everything is going to hell, it’s important to note that it simply isn’t true. To the contrary, some very important, even fundamental, things are getting a whole lot better.
For example, violence may seem to surround us. Gang shootings, babies abandoned in cars, road rage. But the reality is that today, the murder rate (4.7 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants) is less than half what it was in 1993 (9.5 per 100,000). And every year it keeps getting better.
The most recent FBI data — covering the first six months of 2013 — show that violent crime fell another 5.6 percent over that same period in 2012. The murder rate fell by 6.9 percent. Property crime fell 5.4 percent.
Again, that’s all in one year. We are making consistent, measurable, even dramatic progress toward becoming a less violent, more law-abiding nation.
The same is true for teen birth rates. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control, the birth rate for girls aged 15 to 19 has dropped by two-thirds since 1991. TWO THIRDS! Among black teens, it has fallen from 120 births per 1,000 to barely 40 births per 1,000. And again, that improvement shows every sign of continuing. In 2012, the teen birth rate fell another 6 percent.
Here in Georgia, the news is admittedly mixed, although the trends remain positive. As the CDC notes, “Southern and southwestern states have persistently higher teen birth rates than northern and eastern states, regardless of race/ethnicity.” Georgia’s 2012 teen birth rate of 33.8 per thousand is still notably higher than the national rate of 29.4.
However, that 2012 number for Georgia represents a heartening 12 percent drop from 2011 and continues a long-term trend. “Between 1994 and 2011, the teen birth rate decreased in Georgia by 46 percent,” the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential points out. “During those years, it decreased by 48 percent among Caucasians, 37 percent among Hispanics, and 56 percent among African-Americans.”
When you’ve cut your teen birth rate almost in half in less than 20 years, you have accomplished something important. In Georgia alone, that represents tens of thousands of girls with a much better chance of getting an education, getting a job and delaying a family until they are emotionally, physically and financially able to handle it.
And that in turn represents tens of thousands — and over the years hundreds of thousands — of children born not to girls who are themselves children, but to grown women far better capable of raising them with the emotional and financial support that they need.
These are profoundly important improvements in areas of public policy that once seemed immune to progress, and they will have secondary effects in educational levels, poverty levels, etc. For example, there’s every reason to believe that the drop in crime rate and drop in teen birth rate have been mutually reinforcing phenomena.
The fact that these changes are occurring even in the midst of a dramatic demographic transition and through difficult economic times is all the more cause not just for celebration, but for confidence in this nation’s future.
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