CHICAGO (Reuters) - More children in the United States are living in a household with at least one working parent and fewer teens than ever are having babies, the annual federal report on children has found.
But the news is not all good.
More U.S. children breathe air and drink water that is polluted, more are living in crowded, costly housing that strains the family budget and more babies are being born at low birth weights that threaten their survival and set them up for problems down the road.
The 10th annual report tracks 38 indicators that affect the well-being of the nation’s 73.7 million children from birth to age 17.
For the most part, the report saw no change in key trends, but in many cases — such as the number of kids in poverty or the number of kids who smoke or go on drinking binges — no change means no progress.
“A most welcome development is the slight increase in the number of children who live with a parent who is working full time,” Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told reporters.
In 2005, 78.3 percent of children had at least one parent working full time, up from 77.6 percent in 2004, but below the peak of 80 percent in 2000.
Alexander said a working parent helps reduce the psychological strain on families and their children.
But not all enjoy employment equally.
Black, non-Hispanic children were less likely than white, non-Hispanic children to have a working parent.
About 74 percent of Hispanic children and 62 percent of black children lived in families with secure employment, compared with 84 percent of white, non-Hispanic kids.
The report also found that 60 percent of children lived in counties in which air pollutants exceeded allowable levels, up from 46 percent in 2004, but down from 65 percent in 1999.
And water quality got worse, with 10 percent of children in 2005 living in communities whose water systems failed to meet health standards, compared with 8 percent in 2004.
Officials said they were pleased that teen pregnancy rates had fallen to the lowest level ever, with 21 births per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17, down from 22 per 1,000 in 2004.
“The drop among blacks has really been spectacular. Ten years ago blacks had the highest rate of teen pregnancy. Now it’s Hispanics, but all groups have fallen,” Dr. Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, said in a telephone interview.
But he expressed concern about a steady increase in low birth-weight babies, which rose to 8.2 percent in 2005, from 8.1 percent in 2004 and 7.9 percent in 2003.
Among blacks, 14 percent percent of infants had low birth weights in 2005 — the highest of any group.
“One of the things that is definitely related to low birth weight is income,” Sondik said. And poverty rates among kids have not improved.
“Seventeen percent of children fall into the poverty category. That is not quite one in five. That is quite a bit,” he said.
While fewer children die from low birth weight, they are still at risk of developing mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and visual or hearing difficulties.
Sondik also expressed worry over dangerous teen behavior.
“Twenty-five percent of high schoolers have done binge drinking in the last two weeks and 22 percent have used illicit drugs in the last 30 days,” he said.