Study Notes More Children With Immigrant Parents Federal Report Cites Health, Education Concerns (2002)

By Helen Rumbelow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 12, 2002; Page A02

The number of children in America with at least one parent who is a first-generation immigrant has risen by a third in the last seven years,with potentially serious implications for health and education policy, according to a federal report released today.

Nearly 1 in 5 children live with at least one parent who was born outside the United States, and they are much more likely to live below the povertyline and have other risk factors for ill health and poor educational development.

This concern was among the troubling aspects of a generally rosy portrait of American youth in the annual report, "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Wellbeing 2002." The report, a compilation of child welfare statistics, was produced by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

"Our results indicate that this particular aspect of growing diversity has correlations," said Nancy Gordon, associate director for demographic programs at the U.S Census Bureau.

"Public policy is generally orientated towards children in need, but the definition of need doesn't usually relate to where a child's parents are born," Gordon said.

"These children are likely to need more help to grow up into successful adults -- at home, from religious or nonprofit groups and the school system," she said.

As a group, the country's 70.4 million people under the age of 18 have a brighter future than ever before, according to the annual statistics gathered by the federal interagency forum.

Infant mortality is at a record low, largely because of a halving in deaths from sudden infant death syndrome since 1994, when a public campaign to put babies on their backs to sleep began. In 1999, the report said, 7 of every 1,000 babies under the age of 1 died. This fell again in 2000 to 6.9 deaths
per 1,000 babies, according to a separate report released by the Centers for Disease Control today.

But the CDC said the gap between black and white babies is widening: In 1980, black babies were twice as likely as white ones to die; in 2000, they were 2.5 times as likely.

According to the interagency report, the economic boom of the late 1990s led to 88 percent of children in 2000 being covered by health insurance, the highest level of the past 15 years. More up-to-date figures are not available to assess the impact of last year's economic instability. Hispanic children were most likely to be among the 8.4 million children with no health insurance.

Bedtime stories have also boomed, with the majority of 3- to 5-year-olds being read to every day by a relative, up significantly on the previous year. This seems to be due to the trend of women getting a better education before starting a family, according to the interagency experts.

The best chance a child has for a story is to have a mother who went to college, according to the report. Three-fourths of these children are read to every day, compared with less than half of the children whose
mothers did not finish high school.

The report also found that teenagers are less likely to smoke or become pregnant, although they are resisting attempts to stop binge drinking or using illegal drugs.

Children who are poor, nonwhite or have uneducated parents do not do nearly so well as their counterparts, a "persistent and consistent gap," said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics.

In that context, this year's report looked for the first time at the health risks for the children of first-generation immigrants, which in the future will be added as another key indicator of the wellbeing of the nation's youth.

The interagency group found that a third of these children had a parent who had not finished high school -- three times the rate of children whose parents were born in the United States -- and that this hurts a child's chances of good health and success in school.

Sondik said the size of the group meant it could have an impact on overall child health in future years.

"We might see changes in health. Health is clearly related to poverty, and these children are more likely to live in poverty," he said.

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