Teen Preganancy Rate Drops, Yet Disparities Continue

Eesha Pandit

New findings on child wellness in the United States were released Friday: the rate of teen pregnancy is at an all time low, but there are still significant disparities between race and class.

It happens rarely, but occasionally we come across some good news. The Washington Post reported on new findings on child wellness in the United States, which was released Friday by the Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Considering many factors as indicators of child wellness, the report found that the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is at an all time low. Compared to previous years, fewer high school students are having sex and more are using condoms.

Compiled from statistics and studies at 22 federal agencies, and covering 38 key indicators—including infant mortality, academic achievement rates and the number of children living in poverty—the report is an assessment of the well-being of the nation's children.

Below are some encouraging stats about teen sexual activity from the report:

  • Of those who had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent, about 9 million, used condoms. That's up from 46 percent in 1991.
  • The teen birth rate was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15-17 in 2005—an all-time low. It was down from 39 births per 1,000 teens in 1991.
  • The birth rate in the 15-19 age group was 40 per 1,000 in 2005, also down sharply from the previous decade.

James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth offered an explanation for the improved numbers on teen sex, condoms and adolescent births, "I think the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the efforts in the '80s and '90s had a lot to do with that … We need to encourage young teens to delay sexual initiation and we need to make sure they get all the information they need about condoms and birth control."

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And now for the not-so-good news: while the Post reported the improvements in child wellness regarding teen pregnancy, they failed to draw attention to the fact that the rosy picture and health and wellness improvements are often drastically different across the factors of race and class. Note the following stats also from the report:

  • On race and poverty: In 2005, 18 percent of all children ages 0-17 lived in poverty, unchanged from 2004. The poverty rate was higher for Black children and for Hispanic children than for White, non-Hispanic children. In 2005, 10 percent of White, non-Hispanic children lived in poverty, compared with 35 percent of Black children and 28 percent of Hispanic children.
  • On environmental issues: Children living in families with incomes below poverty generally had greater blood lead levels than children in families at or above poverty.
  • On healthcare: The percentage of children covered by health insurance decreased slightly. In 2005, 89 percent of children had health insurance coverage at some point during the year, down from 90 percent the previous year.
  • On infant mortality: Substantial racial and ethnic disparities continue. Black, non-Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native infants have consistently had a higher infant mortality rate than that of other racial or ethnic groups. For example, in 2004, the Black, non-Hispanic infant mortality rate was 13.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and the American Indian/Alaska Native rate was 8.4, both higher than the rates among White, non-Hispanic (5.7), Hispanic (5.5), and Asian/Pacific Islander (4.7) infants.

While certain wellness indicators certainly point to progress over the last few years, we would be doing a great disservice to those children and young people in poverty if we were to ignore some of the challenges that remain. In this, a high-stakes election season, we find the perfect opportunity to press policymakers on ensuring all the young people in this nation grow up with access to the resources and education that make for a life of health and wellness.

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