National Edition

Kids today are less likely to become pregnant or die, but more likely to live in poverty

Published: Tuesday, July 22 2014 4:05 p.m. MDT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say kids are most likely to die from motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns and drowning. But the number of children dying from each has decreased significantly — a 19 percent decline for deaths from falls and a 45 percent decline for fires and burns, said Janet Brooks, child advocacy manager at Primary Chidlren’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. What has not improved is the suffocation rate of children from improper sleeping and bedding or poison-related deaths, mostly from inappropriate use of prescription and illegal drugs.

Some gains may surprise people.

Speer thinks most adults would say teens are more likely to become pregnant now than 25 years ago. They’d be wrong. Teen pregnancy is at a historic low and has been dropping for years.

“Hyperbole aside, it’s one of the nation’s real success stories,” said Bill Albert, spokesman for National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy. “More teens delay sex, teens have fewer sexual partners and those having sex are using contraceptives more consistently.” He said the teen abortion rate has fallen more dramatically than it has for older women.

Real people

Behind the numbers are programs and policies trying to make a difference for kids.

In many cities, programs work to fill the gap in nutrition for low-incomes families during the summertime. On July 18, Liz Guerrero supervised a summer food distribution in South Salt Lake, sponsored by Salt Lake Community Action Program/Head Start. The location is one of several where, rain or shine, staffers pitch an awning and provide a simple meal on weekday evenings. At this location, it’s not uncommon to feed 110 or more people, she said. The program targets low-income families, but they feed whoever shows up.

Patrick and Maria Perez brought a little table and chairs. In the shade of a tree, the family of eight ate simple burritos, apples and carrots. It is only the second time they’ve used the program, he said.

Lilia Llamas was there with her four kids, ages 3 to 14. She said the youngsters thrive in school and she is particularly grateful for teachers who help them figure things out if they struggle.

Many schools have afternoon tutoring programs to help children who struggle, but it takes funding to make that happen. Speer said one of the challenges programs face across a range of services for families is hanging onto what resources they have while figuring out what more is needed.

Families need adequate child care, high-quality preschools and other “base-level” supports to shore them up, she said, adding that it's not all about government programs.

Government programs are, however, part of the equation. Larry Joseph, director of research for Voices for Illinois Children, points to the federal earned income tax credit as "one of the nation's most effective tools for alleviating child poverty." It encourages and rewards work by supplementing wages of low-income working families, said Joseph.

Many states, including Illinois, have established their own version of the EITC. "At the end of 2011, after many years of advocacy by Voices and its coalition partners, the General Assembly enacted legislation that increased the state EITC from its original level — only 5 percent of the federal credit — to 7.5 percent in tax year 2012 and 10 percent in 2013," Joseph said. "In 2012, the state EITC benefited an estimated 1.2 million children. We currently support legislation that would help low-income families, improve tax fairness, and boost local economies by expanding the credit to 20 percent of the federal EITC."

State by state

The Kids Count report includes a snapshot of how each state compares to itself in the past and to other states today. Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota rank highest in terms of child well-being, while Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi come in last.

Iowa, Utah, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee made the biggest improvements compared to last year's report. The biggest drops in ranking were in Wyoming, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Montana and Oklahoma.

State child advocacy programs note various challenges and victories. Jessica Mindnich, director of research for Children Now in California, said they see widening disparities, “like a pileup effect.” Some children start from so far behind they have trouble catching up. California, though, has more kids in preschool, reading on grade level and advancing in math than in the past. They have continued to improve access to health insurance and have their own health exchange, she said.

Asked what concrete change would make a difference, she points to preschool. “Preschool would be a really good first step. … Ensuring that all kids have a solid education is important if we want to compete globally. And that’s increasingly not a choice, but a necessity.”

The entire Kids Count report and state comparisons are online.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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