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Oklahoma improves in some areas

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The health and well being of Oklahoma children improved in some areas, but the percentage of kids living in poverty has increased, a national report shows.

The bright spot in the Kids Count 2005 report was that the high school dropout rate in Oklahoma in 2003 stood at 7 percent, a 50 percent improvement from the 14 percent rate in 2000.

``We're doing something right and I think that has a lot to do with our legislators and our cities emphasizing education,'' said Anne Roberts, executive director for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

Overall, however, Roberts said the report shows the state has a long way to go to improve the health and well being of its youngest citizens.

``I would say it's the same song, second verse sort of thing. We have consistently ranked pretty low in most of the indicators on child health and well being,'' she said.

She noted that the child poverty rate increased from 19 to 22 percent, part of a national trend in the last three years. Oklahoma's child poverty rate ranks 42nd among the 50 states.

``I think the most telling indicator is the percent of children in poverty,'' she said. ``Poverty is the one indicator that makes everything else worse.''

Overall, the Kids Count report says Oklahoma's children rank 38th in their health and well-being, compared to other states.

The report showed that the percentage of teenagers having children declined by 3 percent, but that was less than a third of the national decline of 10 percent. Oklahoma ranks 44th in the rate of teenage births.

About 62,000, or 7 percent of Oklahoma's children, lived in households in 2003 where no adult had worked in a year. Nationwide, the percentage of low-income households struggling with chronic unemployment was 5 percent.

The report showed a slight improvement in the infant mortality rate and the death rate for children between the ages of one and 14, but a slight increase in the teenage death rate.

It showed a decline from 31 percent to 29 percent in the number of single-parent households.

``One of the things the report does delve deeply into are the underlying factors such as substance abuse among children,'' Roberts said. ``We all hear these terrible stories about kids overdosing on liquor.

``When we talk about substance abuse, we all think of fancy drugs such as cocaine or meth. But for high schools, the drug of choice is 3.2 percent beer.''
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