CHILD well-being on the upswing in U.S.

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Life got better for American children during the 1990s, at least when measured by their chances of surviving infancy and childhood, of graduating from high school and avoiding pregnancy.

In many cases, improvement took place nationwide, according to the annual Kids Count report. The report, released Tuesday, provides an easy-to-use comparison of states with one another and with the nation as a whole in 10 categories.

``The well-being of children is improving,'' said William O'Hare, coordinator of the project for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private research and grant-making concern that focuses on children. ``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 then.

Only one indicator showed a negative trend: an increasing proportion of dangerously underweight babies. In 1990, 7 percent of babies were born weighing less than about 5.5 pounds, putting them at risk 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.

The report, based on government data, also found that between 1990 and 1998:

_Infant mortality _ death during the first year _ fell 22 percent. The rate continues to be much higher in poor communities.

_Child deaths, which includes kids ages 1 to 14, fell 23 percent. Experts credit advances in medical care and a general decrease in deaths from car crashes.

_Teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide dropped 24 percent. These causes account for more than three in four deaths to teen-agers.

_Births to teen-agers fell 19 percent. Other data show that overall teen pregnancy, which accounts for abortions and miscarriages, also fell.

_The high school dropout rate fell 10 percent. In 1998, 9 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds had dropped out of high school, down slightly from 10 percent in 1990. But there was significant variation across the country, with the rate rising in 18 states and falling in 24.

_Child poverty was level from 1990 to 1998, but it fell over the next two years and in 1999 reached its lowest level since 1979. In 1999, 16.9 percent of children lived in poverty.

The report ranked the states on every measure and gave a composite ranking based on all 10.

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.