Box 6.1 The Troubled State of U.S. Children's Health CIESIN Reproduced, with pemission, from:

Box 6.1 The Troubled State of U.S. Children's Health

Despite its enormous wealth, the United States still contains a large and apparently growing number of children living in poverty and poor health. While dramatic progress was made in the 1960s in reducing child poverty, progress halted in the 1970s, and child poverty rates increased in the 1980s (1). The U.S. Census Bureau announced in late 1991 that 20.6 percent of U.S. children were living in poverty in 1990, up from 19.6 percent the previous year. The high percentage of impoverished children is driven mainly by the increasing numbers of female-headed households (2).

Poverty and illness are particularly severe problems for black children in the United States. The U.S. infant mortality rate is higher than those of 21 other industrialized countries; black babies in the U.S. are twice as likely to die as white babies. Since 1980, no progress has been made in reducing the incidence of low birthweight babies; for blacks, the rate has actually increased (3).

While developing countries have made spectacular progress in immunizing childhood diseases, with average immunization levels improving from 15 percent to about 80 percent, this has not happened in the United States. In 1990, only about 70 percent of U.S. children were immunized against measles, mumps, and rubella; in many inner cities only about one half of young children were protected. In 1990, more than 26,000 cases of measles were reported, sharply higher than the 3,000-case average in 1981--88; most cases were among children in poor, inner-city families. Cases of rubella and whooping cough are unknown because the federal government suspended data collection in 1985 (4).

At least 10 to 15 percent of children in the United States suffer from chronic or disabling conditions such as genetic or metabolic disorders, birth defects, trauma, premature birth, or infection. Increasingly common conditions include respiratory diseases, mental and nervous disorders (at least 10 percent of children suffer from serious mental health disorders, including autism and depression), and orthopedic and sensory impairments. An estimated 12 million American children, mostly poor children, are at risk of lead poisoning (5).

References and Notes

1. Clifford M. Johnson, Leticia Miranda, Arloc Sherman, et al., Child Poverty in America (Children's Defense Fund, Washington, D.C., 1991), pp. 1, 4

2. Jason DeParle, "Poverty Rate Rose Sharply Last Year as Incomes Slipped," New York Times (September 27, 1991), p. A1.

3. National Commission on Children, Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Children and Families (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1991), p. 119.

4. Ibid., pp. 119-121.

5. Ibid., p. 121.