Generation Z Breaks Records in Education and Health Despite Growing Economic Instability of Families

Posted June 21, 2016, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A group of children

The teenagers of Gen­er­a­tion Z — the ris­ing cohort born after 1995 that fol­lows the Mil­len­ni­als — broke records in edu­ca­tion and health indi­ca­tors despite grow­ing up in the midst of the eco­nom­ic down­turn, accord­ing to the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation.

Aid­ed by fed­er­al, state and local poli­cies and invest­ments in pre­ven­tion, a record num­ber of teens have man­aged to avoid bad choic­es that could have derailed their future prospects. Com­par­ing data between 2008 and 2014, teen birth rates fell 40%, the per­cent­age of teens abus­ing drugs and alco­hol dropped 38%, and the per­cent­age of teens not grad­u­at­ing on time decreased by 28%.

These improve­ments are remark­able giv­en the eco­nom­ic chal­lenges faced by far too many of their fam­i­lies. Despite ris­ing employ­ment num­bers, 22% of chil­dren lived in pover­ty in 2014 — the same rate as in 2013 and almost one in three chil­dren live in fam­i­lies where no mem­ber of the house­hold has full-time, year-round employ­ment. While nav­i­gat­ing their own fam­i­ly chal­lenges, an increas­ing num­ber of our young peo­ple are also grow­ing up in neigh­bor­hoods that lack the resources they need to thrive. Since 20062010, the num­ber of chil­dren liv­ing in high-pover­ty areas increased to 14%, up from 11%.

This gen­er­a­tion of teenagers and young adults are com­ing of age in in the wake of the worst eco­nom­ic cli­mate in near­ly 80 years, and yet they are achiev­ing key mile­stones that are crit­i­cal for future suc­cess,” said Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Casey Foun­da­tion. With more young peo­ple mak­ing smarter deci­sions, we must ful­fill our part of the bar­gain, by pro­vid­ing them with the edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty that youth deserve. We urge can­di­dates in state and nation­al cam­paigns to describe in depth their pro­pos­als to help these deter­mined young peo­ple real­ize their full potential.”

Since 2008, the per­cent­age of teen drug and alco­hol abuse has declined by dou­ble dig­its in every state except Louisiana and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia; in 11 states it fell by 40% or more. The teen birth rate fell by more than 20% since 2008 in all but one state, North Dako­ta, where it fell by 14%. Child and teen death rates fell in all states except two, Utah and West Vir­ginia, with a 66% drop in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia. Only three states did not see a pos­i­tive change in the per­cent­age of high school kids not grad­u­at­ing on time, with Nebras­ka and D.C. see­ing 50% or more of a decrease.

Yet despite their increas­ing­ly respon­si­ble choic­es, Gen­er­a­tion Z teens grow­ing up in low- to mod­er­ate-income house­holds have few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties to move up the eco­nom­ic lad­der com­pared to adults in the pre­vi­ous two gen­er­a­tions. A col­lege degree is now required to qual­i­fy for most mid­dle income posi­tions, but ris­ing tuition costs and a shift in finan­cial aid away from needs-based grants to loans has put a post-sec­ondary edu­ca­tion out of reach for most low-income stu­dents. Armed with only a high school degree, the future prospects for young adults are bleak. Among recent high school grad­u­ates, the unem­ploy­ment rate was 28% for blacks, 17% for Lati­nos and 15% for whites. Those with jobs earned, on aver­age, $10.66 an hour, which was less than wages in 2000 when adjust­ed for inflation.

With ris­ing high­er edu­ca­tion costs, stag­nant wages and a flim­sy social safe­ty net, teens are less like­ly than their par­ents or grand­par­ents to obtain eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty,” con­tin­ued McCarthy. For the sake of our econ­o­my and our soci­ety, we must reverse this trend to ensure that today’s youth — who will be the next gen­er­a­tion of work­ers, par­ents and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers — have a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to adult­hood and beyond.”

Key trends include gains in health insur­ance but stag­nat­ing pover­ty and racial inequity

The 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which focus­es on key trends in child well-being in the post-reces­sion years, mea­sures child well-being in four domains: eco­nom­ic well-being, edu­ca­tion, health, and fam­i­ly and community.

The rates of chil­dren with­out health insur­ance have improved by 40% since 2008, with some states record­ing decreas­es of more than 60%. State health insur­ance cov­ered close to an addi­tion­al 3 mil­lion children.

Our country’s lega­cy of racial inequity means that chil­dren of col­or con­tin­ue to face sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers to their suc­cess. African-Amer­i­can chil­dren were twice as like­ly as the aver­age child to live in high-pover­ty neigh­bor­hoods and to live in sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies. Amer­i­can Indi­an chil­dren were twice as like­ly to lack health insur­ance cov­er­age, and Lati­no chil­dren were the least like­ly to live with a house­hold head who has at least a high school diplo­ma. On a pos­i­tive note, African-Amer­i­can chil­dren were more like­ly than the nation­al aver­age to have health insur­ance cov­er­age, attend pre-school and Pre‑K, and live in fam­i­lies where the house­hold head had at least a high school diploma.

Gen­er­a­tion Z is the most diverse yet, and chil­dren of col­or are already the major­i­ty in 12 states. By the end of the decade, chil­dren of col­or will be the major­i­ty of all chil­dren in the Unit­ed States,” said Lau­ra Speer, asso­ciate direc­tor for pol­i­cy reform and advo­ca­cy. Our shared future depends on today’s young peo­ple ful­fill­ing their potential.”

Nation­al and State Rank­ings for the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book

For the sec­ond year in a row, a non-New Eng­land state ranks num­ber one for over­all child well-being. Min­neso­ta holds the top spot, fol­lowed by Mass­a­chu­setts, Iowa, New Hamp­shire and Con­necti­cut, a new­com­er to the top five. Mis­sis­sip­pi remains the low­est ranked, with New Mex­i­co, Louisiana, Neva­da and new­com­er Alaba­ma round­ing out the bot­tom five. Oth­er state highlights:

  • The top five states in eco­nom­ic well-being are in the heart­land and Plain States regions — Wyoming, North Dako­ta, Min­neso­ta, Iowa and Nebraska.
  • The biggest improve­ments in over­all rank­ings com­pared to last year’s Data Book are in Mon­tana, Rhode Island, South Dako­ta, Wash­ing­ton, West Vir­ginia and Wyoming.
  • The biggest drops in over­all rank­ings are in Alas­ka, Maine, Mary­land and Kansas.
  • Arkansas, Flori­da and Wyoming fell to the low­est five rank­ings in health, accom­pa­ny­ing Mis­sis­sip­pi and Louisiana.

Bipar­ti­san solu­tions based on Amer­i­can values

In the Data Book, the Casey Foun­da­tion offers a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions for how pol­i­cy mak­ers can ensure all chil­dren are pre­pared for the future, based on this country’s shared val­ues of oppor­tu­ni­ty, respon­si­bil­i­ty and security.

  • OPPOR­TU­NI­TY: Increase oppor­tu­ni­ty by expand­ing access to high-qual­i­ty pre‑k and ear­ly child­hood ser­vices so that all chil­dren are pre­pared to suc­ceed in school. In addi­tion, expand access to high­er edu­ca­tion and train­ing so that every low-income child has a fair chance to devel­op his or her potential.
  • RESPON­SI­BIL­I­TY: Increase the Earned Income Tax Cred­it for low-income work­ers who do not have depen­dent chil­dren. This strat­e­gy will bol­ster work­ers, who may in fact be help­ing to sup­port chil­dren who do not live with them and who are strug­gling to get by on low wages.
  • SECU­RI­TY: Poli­cies can ensure Amer­i­can fam­i­lies have a mea­sure of secu­ri­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly low-income par­ents of young chil­dren, by pro­vid­ing paid fam­i­ly leave that helps them bal­ance their oblig­a­tions at home and in the workplace.

Read, down­load or order the 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book

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