Hurting the children

March 31, 1992

The Center for Social Policy has released a report that is truly shocking: Children in this state are more likely than kids across the country to die in infancy, to be killed as teen-agers or to live in single-parent households, a sure route to underprivileged status.

Maryland's wealth statistics have been misleading. Our state ranks fifth nationally in median income, but that ignores other, more pertinent indicators of social well-being. One standout is the Baltimore metropolitan region's low ranking in adults who are high-school graduates. Under-educated adults are frequently under-employed and under-paid, with unhealthy consequences for children. But the decline in manufacturing jobs, so devastating to the region during the 1970s and 1980s, not only has cut higher-paying, lower-skilled jobs. It also has meant more children receive fewer -- if any -- health benefits.

A book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, "When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our Children," makes it clear that although some Maryland trends are downward, they reflect national problems:

* 20 percent of all children are growing up in poverty, a rise of 21 percent since 1970.

* The rate of suicides among adolescents has tripled since 1960.

* 42 percent of fathers fail to see their children after divorce. This is critical, because fathers who keep contact with their children are far more likely to keep up support payments.

* 27 percent of teen-agers drop out of high school, exacerbating problems they already have.

Add to this the tragic results of what Ms. Hewlett, an economist, described as "spending our resources on the wrong generation" by "transferring money from the needy young to the comfortable old" through Social Security, pension plans and various tax benefits.

The bottom line is that today's children, in Maryland and in the nation, suffer disproportionately compared to the children of earlier generations. The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has said as much in its barrage of federal budget analyses.

There were a few bright spots for Maryland in the report. Teen-aged mothers accounted for an increasing proportion of births nationwide, but Maryland's rate of births among single teens has dropped slightly. Moreover, the state's percentage of children in custody fell dramatically from 1984 to 1989, while the national percentage went up.

This report sounds an alarm that should trouble all Marylanders. We cannot continue to shortchange children in education, health and welfare benefits without paying a terrible price in the future, when they become critical resources for national progress.

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