Concerning Trends U.S. Teen Death Rates in 2020

Posted July 26, 2022
Updates teendeathrateimg 2022

As the nation grieves the heart­break­ing loss of chil­dren in Uvalde, Texas, and those in Buf­fa­lo, New York, and count­less oth­ers in recent weeks, months and years, pub­lic dis­cus­sion has turned to how we can work togeth­er to reduce gun vio­lence in the Unit­ed States. The trag­ic real­i­ty is that too many young peo­ple are dying from pre­ventable caus­es every day, includ­ing homi­cides, acci­dents and sui­cides — and the lat­est data in the KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter show that the over­all teen death rate is on the rise, after decades of declin­ing. This blog post breaks down recent trends on pre­ventable deaths among teens.

The Lat­est Find­ings in Teen Deaths

The U.S. teen death rate from all caus­es has dra­mat­i­cal­ly decreased since 1990 (the ear­li­est year avail­able in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter), from 88 deaths per 100,000 teens ages 15 to 19 to 59 per 100,000 in 2020. While many fac­tors con­tribute to death rates, includ­ing access to health care and oth­er resources, com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and phys­i­cal and men­tal health, the drop in teen mor­tal­i­ty is large­ly due to pub­lic health suc­cess­es to reduce motor vehi­cle accidents.

In the past decade, how­ev­er, a con­cern­ing shift has occurred, with the over­all teen death rate steadi­ly increas­ing from 2014 to 2017 and then sharply spik­ing in 2020, from 49 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2019 to 59 per 100,000. This spike meant 12,278 young lives lost in 2020 com­pared to 10,258 in 2019. Cer­tain states had par­tic­u­lar­ly high teen death rates in 2020, includ­ing Louisiana with 97 per 100,000, Alas­ka with 96 per 100,000 and Arkansas with 88 per 100,000.

What’s Dri­ving This Increase?

Accord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, which pro­vides detailed data by cause of death, the major cat­e­gories of teen deaths are unin­ten­tion­al injuries or acci­dents (e.g., car crash­es), homi­cides and sui­cides. While rates for all three lead­ing caus­es climbed between 2014 and 2017, rates for acci­dents and homi­cides start­ed ris­ing in this peri­od for the first time in years, and then both rates jumped sharply in 2020, while sui­cides did not. Dig­ging into the data fur­ther, the firearm death rate for teens — and the rate of homi­cides due to firearms, specif­i­cal­ly — mir­rored these ris­es in 2014 and 2020. In fact, in 2020, firearms killed more teens ages 15 to 19 than did car acci­dents, which had been the spe­cif­ic lead­ing cause of death for decades.

Among acci­den­tal deaths, an increas­ing share (30% in 2020) are due to drug over­dos­es and poi­son­ing. The nation’s lead­ing health orga­ni­za­tions are urg­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers and oth­ers to take fur­ther action to address the trou­bling rise in over­dos­es among teens and oth­er age groups.

In brighter news, the teen sui­cide rate declined from 2018 to 2020, after steadi­ly increas­ing over the pre­vi­ous decade. Forty-eight per­cent of teen sui­cides were by firearm in 2020; youth men­tal health con­tin­ues to be a nation­al cri­sis, with access to care a seri­ous bar­ri­er for many young peo­ple and families.

Con­tin­ued Inequities by Race and Ethnicity

Teen deaths by all causes by race (2020)

One thing has not changed in decades: Black and Amer­i­can Indi­an youth have the high­est death rates of all racial and eth­nic groups with data. The KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter pro­vides the teen death rate from all caus­es by race and eth­nic­i­ty. In 2020, the rate for Black teens ages 15 to 19 was 109 per 100,000, almost twice the nation­al rate and an alarm­ing increase from 82 per 100,000 in 2019. The rate for Amer­i­can Indi­an youth was 68 per 100,000 in 2020, about lev­el with 2019 but up from 59 per 100,000 in 2018. The Lati­no teen death rate has inched up in each of the past three years from 41 per 100,000 in 2018 to 55 in 2020. The death rate for white teens declined between 2018 and 2019 but rose to 49 per 100,000 in 2020. Rates increased slight­ly over this three-year peri­od for both youth with two or more races and Asian and Pacif­ic Islander teens to 34 and 27 per 100,000 in 2020, respectively.

A 2022 analy­sis by the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Gun Vio­lence Solu­tions report­ed that young Black and Lati­no males, par­tic­u­lar­ly young Black males, are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly vic­tims of gun homi­cides and that 52% of all deaths among Black teens in 2020 were due to firearms. These racial dis­par­i­ties are per­pet­u­at­ed by sys­temic inequities, such as socioe­co­nom­ic inequal­i­ty, lack of access to oppor­tu­ni­ties, under-resourced neigh­bor­hoods, dis­crim­i­na­tion and oth­er fac­tors. The Johns Hop­kins report also out­lines evi­dence-based pro­gram and pol­i­cy solu­tions, includ­ing com­mu­ni­ty vio­lence interventions.

Each loss of life is a tragedy and takes an emo­tion­al and eco­nom­ic toll on fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. We know that it’s pos­si­ble to reduce pre­ventable deaths, and each sec­tor and lev­el of gov­ern­ment can take steps to reverse these con­cern­ing trends among youth in our communities.

View More Data and Stay Connected

Access all death-relat­ed sta­tis­tics in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter. The teen deaths indi­ca­tor is includ­ed in the Child Well-Being Index, as part of the KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Also, check out the Foun­da­tion’s report on improv­ing com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty through the use of pub­lic health strate­gies.

Sign up for our newslet­ters to get the lat­est data, reports and oth­er resources.

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Youth with curly hair in pink shirt

blog   |   June 3, 2021

Defining LGBTQ Terms and Concepts

A mother and her child are standing outdoors, each with one arm wrapped around the other. They are looking at each other and smiling. The child has a basketball in hand.

blog   |   August 1, 2022

Child Well-Being in Single-Parent Families