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Children's lives got better in the 1990's

Children's lives got better in the 1990s

The Associated Press

May 22, 2001

WASHINGTON + By most measures, life improved for America's children during the 1990s: Infant mortality, high school dropout and births to teenagers all fell.

In many cases, improvement was evident in every state, according to a Kids Count report being released today that provides an easy-to-use comparison of states with one another and with the nation as a whole on 10 indicators. "The well-being of children is improving," said William O'Hare, coordinator of the project for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "Most states got better on most of the measures that we use."

On seven of the 10 measures, the national numbers improved between 1990 and 1998, and for two others, the nation has improved since 1998. Only one indicator showed a negative trend, an increasing proportion of babies being born dangerously small. In 1990, 7 percent of babies were born weighing less than about 5.5 pounds, putting them at danger of developmental problems.

By 1998, it was 7.6 percent, a 9 percent jump explained by an increase in fertility treatments that has led to more twins and triplets and to older women giving birth.

In 1998, the top 10 states, beginning with No. 1, were New Hampshire, Minnesota, Utah, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Jersey, Nebraska, Washington and Maine.

The bottom 10, beginning with No. 40, were Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Florida came in at 35 on the list, moving up a notch from the previous year.

Thanks to improvements in health access and health services, child and teen death rates in the state were reduced by 30 percent since 1990. The changes in health services also led to a 25 percent reduction in deaths of babies before age 1.

"For a growth state like Florida to make such remarkable progress is nothing short of monumental," said Jack Levine, who has spent the past 20 years as a child advocate. Florida's ranking started to climb in the mid-1990s, going from the 48th in 1996 to 47th the next year, and 36th last year in the Kids Count Data Book.

Levine credits the reductions in infant and child death rates to the successes of the Healthy Start coalitions, which he said have improved the percentage of women receiving prenatal care. That percentage is up from 66 percent before Healthy Start was established in 1990 to 92 percent of all pregnant women receiving services today.

As a result, between 1990 and 1998, Florida's 30 percent improvement in infant mortality -- 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births -- is now at the national average for infant deaths.

The state has seen even more improvements in accident, homicide and suicide death rates of teens 15 to 19.

Florida has improved in the areas of school dropouts and children born to teens. But the state ranks below the national average in both areas.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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