Latest Child Numbers Offer Good News for Parents

This long, hot summer could use some good news. And we have it.

Teen pregnancy, alcohol and tobacco use by students, children’s exposure to second-hand smoke, motor vehicle-related child deaths, and the rate at which young people are victimized by serious crimes have reached 20-year lows. 

These findings come from America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016, recently released by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics and produced with key assistance from experts at AIR.

This year’s America’s Children in Brief report looks at the most recent federal data on children and youth up to 17 years old. Measures of more than 40 well-being indicators, drawn from 23 federal agencies that produce or use statistical data on children and families, are examined.

Since 1997, the Federal Interagency Forum has issued annual compilations of statistics that now span seven dimensions of child well-being: family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health. Among the data freshly culled from those 23 databases:

  • Over the past 20 years, the birth rate among girls, ages 15-17, has declined from 36 births per 1,000 in 1995 to 11 per 1,000 in 2014.
  • In 2015, the percentage of students in grades 8 (1 percent), 10 (3 percent), and  12 (6 percent) reporting that they had smoked cigarettes daily in the past 30 days was the lowest since data collection began in 1980. In 1995 those same rates were 9 percent, 16 percent, and 22 percent. This finding is especially important, since roughly 87 percent of smokers start by age 18.
  • The rate of unsafe lead levels in children’s blood has steadily declined since the 1970s. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that elevated levels of lead were detected in only one-third as many preschool age children (1.9 percent of children age 1-5) from 2007 to 2014 as had been detected in preschool-age children between 1999 and 2006 (5.4 percent of children). (The 2015 data from Flint, Michigan’s crisis of lead in that city’s water supply are not captured in this year’s report.)
  • In 2014, 28 percent of children were living in counties with air pollution particulate levels above the current EPA standard, compared to 62 percent in 2000.
  • Binge drinking by youth and victimization of young people by violent crimes have also reached new lows. Only one-fifth as many youngsters age 12-17 (8 per 1,000) experienced violent crimes in 2014 than in 1993 (40 per 1,000).

America’s Children 2016 highlights selected indicators by race and ethnicity. It documents a gradual but significant narrowing of the gap among Black, White, and Latino youth in tobacco use, teen pregnancy, and motor vehicle-related deaths. Yet, African-American, Latino, and Indigenous youth still experience those issues at higher rates than White and Asian-American youth. Significantly, Black, White, and Latino youth have all benefited from nearly identical 80- percent reductions in violent crime victimization since 1993.

The positive results are not limited to the America’s Children 2016 report. The Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire has recently published similar statistics:

  • Reported physical abuse of children declined by 55 percent between 1992 and 2011, and sexual abuse by 64 percent.
  • Child abductions by strangers dropped by 51 percent between 1997 and 2012.
  • Reports of missing persons under age 18 were 40 percent lower in 2014 than in 1997.

Amid these positive findings, concerns remain:

  • Incidence of major depressive episodes, reported by about 9 percent of youth ages 12-17 in 2004, rose to about 11 percent in 2014. 
  • Rates of childhood obesity have risen overall by 8 percentage points—from 11 percent between 1988 and 1994 for children ages 6-17, to 19 percent from 2011-14.
  • And, after several years of steady decreases, the national rate of substantiated child maltreatment reports increased by 0.8 percent in 2014, up from 9.3 victims per 1,000 in 2009 to 10.1 victims per 1,000 children.

­Despite those concerns, this trove of new national data affirms the state-by-state measures synthesized in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 Kids Count Data Book and supports Casey’s conclusion that “The past few years have brought some positive developments for families and children … [that] are due in part to federal, state, and local policies that are preparing the next generation for the future.”

America’s Children 2016 reports that an all-time low—5 percent—of children and youth lacked health care coverage in 2014, and 95 percent coverage overall now bodes well for equal attention to mental health as a primary health care need.

The new report also shows that public policies have clearly bent the curve upward for graduation rates:

  • The percentage of all American young adults ages 18-24 who have earned a high school diploma or GED increased from 84 percent in 1980 to 92 percent in 2014.
  • For young African American adults, the high school completion rate has improved from 75 percent to 92 percent.
  • Young Hispanic adult completion rates have risen from 57 percent to 87 percent in the same timeframe.   

These gains are especially significant because in 2014, 68 percent of high school completers—including 63 percent of African American completers—enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges in the fall immediately after graduation. Compare that to 49 percent for all completers and 44 percent for African American completers in 1980.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics will issue its next full report in 2017.

Frank Rider is an AIR senior financing specialist. He provides technical assistance through the National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention. He also advises the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, and the Center for School Mental Health.

Image of Frank Rider
Senior Financing Specialist