Life for US children gets better

By several standards - lower child poverty, more working parents, greater family wealth - life is getting better for American children, the government says.

But scholars point out that other negative trends persist. Test scores and other measures of student achievement have remained flat.

Bad habits like smoking and drinking - while down slightly - persist at about the same pace as before, according to the America's Children report, an annual look at government statistics.

The government's figures show declines in teen pregnancies, youth violence, and deaths. The birth rate among girls ages 15 to 17 is at a record low.

The annual study is compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, using information from 20 federal agencies.

"It's a good time to be a child in America," says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who promised more money to deal with youth problems.

From 1980 to 1999, the percentage of children growing up in high-income homes doubled from 16.8 percent to 29 percent. A high-income home is at least four times the federal poverty level; in 1999, that meant $68,116 annual income for a family of four.

Household incomes have risen for all groups of children, including minority children.

"These findings represent important victories for children and adolescents," says Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

However, US youngsters statistically marched in place by many other measures:

* In 1980, 21.3 percent of high school seniors said they smoked daily. By 2000 the percentage was 20.6 percent.

* Eighty-six percent of US youth had finished high school or earned diploma equivalents in 1999. That's up just 2 percent from 1980.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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