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5 statistics that inspire optimism in the future of America's youth

By Robert Abare

A new study has found that “Generation Z,” or the cohort of youth born after 1995 that follows millennials, are healthier and have higher rates of high school completion, despite significant challenges posed by the economy and education costs. The 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, compares national and state data on youth and their well-being collected between 2008 and 2014.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book provides substantial reasons to be optimistic about the future of Generation Z and all of America’s youth, especially when considering youth’s strides in teenage pregnancy, high school graduation and their persistence despite an unfavorable economic environment.

Here are five reasons to be optimistic about (and proud of) America’s youth:

  1. The percentage of teens not graduating high school on time has dropped 28 percent nationwide.
  2. The percentage of teens abusing drugs and alcohol has dropped 38 percent nationwide.
  3. The percentage of teens not graduating high school on time has dropped 28 percent nationwide.
  4. The rate of teenage pregnancy has decreased 40 percent nationwide.
  5. Youth are making strides despite strong economic headwinds. Currently, 22 percent of children live in poverty—the same rate as 2013.

“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 Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“With more young people making smarter decisions, we must fulfill our part of the bargain..."

McCarthy noted the importance of continued investments in systems that support and protect youth, like afterschool programs. “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,” he said. “We urge candidates in state and national campaigns to describe in depth their proposals to help these determined young people realize their full potential.”

The KIDS COUNT Data Book also offers a number of recommendations to policy makers as to how to best support America’s youth, based on the core values of opportunity, responsibility and security.

Three policy recommendations from the report:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book explores far more data on youth well-being, from state rankings to rates of health insurance coverage. Read an overview of key findings on the report’s news release, or download the full report.