KIDS COUNT: New Study Finds Progress In Key Indicators
Ten indicators of "child well-being nationally and state by state ... released today in the annual Kids Count Data Book, published by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Dubin, 5/5). According to AEC, five of the 10 indicators measuring children's well-being showed that conditions got worse between 1985 and 1995, four showed improvement, and one indicator showed no change. Percent of low-birthweight babies; infant mortality rate; child death rate; rate of teen deaths by accident; homicide and suicide; teen birth rate and percent of children in poverty were among the indicators measuring child well-being (1998 Kids Count Report). While data varied from state to state, overall New Hampshire and Vermont ranked first and second, respectively, with other New England states close behind (Ribadeneira/Wong, Boston Globe, 5/5). Although the District of Columbia was found to be "the worst place to grow up," many southern states were not far behind, "namely South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana -- ranked 48th, 49th, and 50th, respectively" (Hill, Atlanta Journal- Constitution, 5/5).
Low Birth-Weight Babies
According to the Casey Foundation, nationally "285,152 babies were born weighing less than 2,500 grams in 1995, making up 7.3% of all births, compared to only 6.8% in 1985," which "represents an increase of 7% over" the ten-year period. This increase "raises a number of troubling issues." Studies show that women "who do not receive adequate early prenatal care are more likely to give birth to a low birth-weight baby. Mothers who lack health insurance are less likely to seek and obtain prenatal care." And according to a U.S. Census Bureau report, Health Insurance Coverage: 1996, "34% of all Latinos and more than one-fifth (22%) of all African Americans did not have health insurance in 1996. People in poverty, high school dropouts, and young adults (ages 18-24) are among the groups least likely to have health insurance." According to the report, Vermont was the only state that did not have an increase in the number of low birthweight babies (1998 Kids Count Report). And just "5.3% of Alaska's newborns weighed less than 5.5 pounds, the weight below which babies become more likely to suffer development problems" (Clarke, AP/Anchorage Daily News, 5/5). The District of Columbia had a high of 13.4%.
Infant Mortality Rate
The study reports that due "in large part to improvements in medical technology, the U.S. Infant Mortality Rate declined from 10.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1985 to 7.6 in 1995." Delaware's IMR "was cut in half during this period" and Massachusetts boasted "a low of 5.2 deaths" per 1,000 while the District of Columbia had a high of 16.2 (Kids Count Report). William O'Leary, Massachusetts health and human services secretary, said, "We are proud of our ranking, especially in child death and infant mortality rates, areas in which we lead the nation" (Globe, 5/5)
Teen Birth Rate
Nationally, teen birth rates "increased from 31 per 1,000 females ages 15-17 in 1985 to 36 in 1995." The study reports that the national "change in teenage childbearing between 1985 and 1995 was echoed in most states. Only 10 states experienced a decrease in the birth rate for 15- to 17-year-olds during this period," and by contrast, "the teen birth rate increased by more than 25% in 7 states and the District of Columbia." In 1995, the teen birth rate "ranged from a low of 11 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 17 in Vermont to a high of 78 in the District of Columbia" (Kids Count Report). Douglas Nelson, president of the AEC foundation, said, "If we don't improve upon the current state of child care, we will not only undermine welfare reform and weaken the future work force, but we also end up putting tens of thousands of children in harm's way" (Bradley, Kansas City Star, 5/5).
To access more information about individual state rankings and to learn more about the Annie E. Casey Foundation, click here.