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Teen birthrate and rate of substance abuse drop substantially

A six-year study based on census data finds the nation's Generation Z youth better off than their previous generation teen counterparts in terms of health, education, family and community, and economic well-being.

 The 2016 Kids Count study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation released Tuesday found that teen birth rates were down 40 percent, drug and alcohol abuse fell off 38 percent and the percentage of youth not graduating from high school on time dipped to 28 percent.

The bad news: the child poverty rate remained the same as last year, hovering at 22 percent.

"Whereas millennials grew up with America’s economy humming along, their next generation counterparts have faced some significant post-recession challenges. Namely, childhoods rattled by fragile family finances and futures hemmed in by sky-high college costs," the study said. "Despite these added growing pains, Generation Z kids (born after 1995) have fared particularly well in the areas of education and health."

The study, comparing census data from 2008 to 2014, ranked states across study categories for child well-being.

Minnesota was No. 1 overall for the second year in a row, marking its seventh time at No. 1 since then Kids Count study began in 1990. It was followed by Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire and Connecticut. The states ranked the worst were Alabama, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi.

Topping the list for education was Massachusetts followed by New Jersey and Connecticut. For health, Minnesota was No. 1 followed by Connecticut and Iowa. For family and community, New Hampshire led the way followed by Utah and Vermont. And for economics, Wyoming was tops with North Dakota coming in at No. 2 and Minnesota No. 3.

“This generation of teenagers and young adults are coming of age 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,” observed Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation in a statement announcing the findings. “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.”

The report praised the data on waning teen drug and alcohol use, noting that in every state except the District of Columbia and Louisiana such consumption had fallen by double digits.

For teen birth rates, they had dropped by more than 20 percent in all but one state, North Dakota, where the rate dipped 14 percent.

Child death rates were down in all but two states, West Virginia and Utah. Most markedly, they fell 66 percent in the District of Columbia. However, teen graduation rates were off 50 percent in the District, the study found.

More children are now insured across the U.S. with coverage up 40 percent since 2008.

But racial economic inequity was persistent, the study found.

"African-American children were twice as likely as the average child to live in high-poverty neighborhoods and to live in single-parent families. American Indian children were twice as likely to lack health insurance coverage, and Latino children were the least likely to live with a household head who has at least a high school diploma," according to the report.

Other key findings: The biggest improvements in overall rankings compared with 2015  were in Montana, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those states dropping the most  were Alaska, Maine, Maryland and Kansas.

The full report with state by state breakouts is at datacenter.kidscount.org