The report, issued by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family
Statistics, represents a comprehensive look at such critical aspects of child
well-being as family structure, economic security, health status, access to
health care, behavior, social environment, and education.
"We're happy to report that the well-being of America's children has
improved in several key areas," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "Infant,
childhood, and adolescent death rates are down, as are teen smoking, teen crime,
and teen birth rates."
Statistics in the Forum report show other trends regarding America's
children. For example, preschool enrollment rates are up. Most children and
adolescents have a diet that is poor or needs improvement. In addition, 12
percent of America's children have difficulty performing everyday activities,
most of whom have a learning disability or a limitation in the ability to
Infant, child, and adolescent mortality have declined, noted Edward
Sondik, Ph.D, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics.
"The findings on mortality represent a true success story," Dr. Sondik
said. "Fewer children die during infancy and the mortality rate for all
children has continued to fall."
The infant mortality rate has dropped since 1983, from 10.9 deaths per
1,000 live births, to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1997.*
Although the death rate for almost all groups of children has declined,
the drop was greatest for black children from ages 1 to 4. From 1996 to 1997,
the death rate for black children fell from 67.6 to 59.2 per 100,000. This
rate, however, remained at almost twice the rate for whites, which was 31.6 in
In 1996, the death rate for adolescents ages 15 to 19 was 78.6 deaths
per 100,000. The death rate for this age group reached a peak of 89 per 100,000
in 1991. Among black males from ages 15 to 19, the death rate from firearms
dropped, from 120.3 per 100,000 in 1995, to 108.7 per 100,000 in 1996. Firearm
deaths for white males ages 15 to 19 were much lower than for black males, and
also declined during the same period, from 27.9 per 100,000 to 23.1 per 100,000.
A new indicator [page 17] measures the quality of children's diets.
From 1994 through 1996, most children and adolescents had a diet that was poor
or needed improvement. Moreover, older children had poorer diets. For example,
in 1996, for children ages 2 to 5, 24 percent had a good diet and 8 percent had
a poor diet. The remainder had a diet that needed improvement. For those ages
13 to 18, only 6 percent had a good diet, while 20 percent had a poor diet. The
Forum report explains that the lower quality diets of older children are linked
to declines in their fruit and milk consumption. (For more information on this
topic, see the accompanying backgrounder, "Healthy Eating Index Shows Most
Children and Adolescents Have a Diet That is Poor or Needs Improvement.")
The 1999 Forum report also includes a special indicator [page 56] that
shows 12.3 percent of America's children from ages 5 to 17 have difficulty
performing everyday activities, such as understanding schoolwork, communicating,
eating, or dressing. (For more information on this indicator, see the
accompanying backgrounder, "Special Indicator Shows More Than 12 Percent of
Children Have Difficulty Performing Everyday Activities.")
Although still high, smoking rates also declined among teenagers, the
Forum report says. The percentage of 10th and 12th graders who smoked daily
dropped in 1998 after having gradually increased since 1992. For 10th graders,
the percentage dropped from 18 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 1998. Among
12th graders, it dropped from its recent high of 25 percent in 1997 to 22
percent in 1998.
Another area to show improvement was the birth rate for teenagers from
ages 15 to 17, which dropped from 38.7 live births per 1,000 females in 1991 to
32.1 in 1997.
Regarding education, a higher percentage of children ages 3 to 4 were
enrolled in preschool in 1997 than in 1996--48 percent, compared to 45 percent.
Preschool enrollment increased most among black, non-Hispanic children, from 45
to 55 percent.
Other education indicators have remained stable, however. High school
completion and college completion rates have not improved, and disparities exist
between whites, blacks, and Hispanics. For example, the high school completion
rate for blacks was 82 percent in 1997, and for whites, 91 percent. The high
school completion rate for Hispanics in 1997 was much lower than for either
blacks or whites, at 67 percent.
The percentage of high school graduates ages 25 to 29 who earned a
bachelor's degree or higher remained relatively stable since 1996, at 31
percent. Again, whites (35 percent) were more likely to attain a bachelor's or
higher level degree than were blacks (18 percent) or Hispanics (17 percent).
Serious crimes against children and adolescents are also down. For
example, youth from ages 12 to 17 were the victims of violent crime at a rate of
27 per 1,000 in 1997, down from 44 per 1,000 in 1993. (More information on
this topic is contained in the accompanying backgrounder, "Indicators of Youth
Violent Crime and Victimization Show Continuing Declines.")
In some areas of children's lives, economic disparities have decreased.
The percentage of children in families living in poverty who have received the
combined series of vaccines has increased between 1996 and 1997, from 69 to 71
percent. In addition, the percentage of children living with their parents who
had at least one parent working full time all year increased 5 percentage points
to 76 percent from 1993 to 1997. A large share of this increase was due to the
increase in the percentage of children living with employed single mothers,
which increased from 33 percent in 1993 to 41 percent in 1997. Moreover,
preschool enrollment increased among children living in poverty, from 34 percent
to 40 percent.
However, while these areas show improvement, significant disparities in
child well-being still exist, principally along economic lines.
There has been little change in the percentage of children living in
poverty, about 19 percent, roughly the same as it was in 1980. Compared to
children above the poverty level, children in poverty are more likely to be at a
disadvantage. For example, poor children are more likely to have a significant
disability, to live in substandard housing, and to receive inadequate nutrition.
Children below the poverty level are also less likely to receive the complete
set of childhood immunizations and are more likely to have difficulties in
There has been a growing income disparity reflecting a higher proportion
of children in extreme poverty as well as in high-income families. Since 1980,
the percentage of children living in families with medium income has fallen from
41 percent to 34 percent in 1997, while the percentage of children living in
families with high income and the percentage of children in extreme poverty have
risen, from 17 to 25 percent, and from 7 to 8 percent, respectively.
The Federal Interagency Forum was entrusted with creating the America's
Children Report by Presidential Order 13045. The National Center for Education
Statistics played a lead role in producing the final report.
Members of the public may obtain single copies of the Forum report
through the National Maternal and Child Health Clearinghouse (while supplies
last) at 2070 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 450, Vienna, VA 22182; telephone (703)
356-1964. The report is also available from the Forum's website at
Members of the news media only may access the report at
http://188.8.131.52/childindicators/. Type in the account name, cipaccess, and
the password, cip2ja. Access will not be granted until you check the prompt
indicating that you will abide by the news embargo of 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight
Time, July 8, 1999.