Our Work

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How the Country Has Changed for Young People

In the last 20 years, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and youth incarceration rates have gone down, while high school graduation rates are up. More young people are pursuing postsecondary education, and teens are also smoking and drinking less.

These are some of the positive developments highlighted in Our Work: A Framework for Accelerating Progress for Children and Youth in America, which America’s Promise released this spring.

However, Our Work also notes that not all the news coming out of the last two decades of youth development is positive. The achievement gap between low-income students and their peers has gotten wider, and African-American children are now three times more likely to experience poverty than white children. Suicide rates for adolescents have gone up too, especially for young girls.  

Trends in Youth Outcomes

“This fundamental paradox – that today is a good time and a challenging time to be a young person in America – is at the heart of Our Work,” says the report, for which America’s Promise interviewed 200 experts, received 300 survey interviews, and spoke with dozens of young people.

Not only does the report cover what’s changed in the world of youth development, it takes a look at how young people themselves have changed. For example, an increasing number of children are Hispanic, English Learners, and come from immigrant families. The majority of public school students today are students of color.

What We Learned

Overall, the experts say that the positive changes we’ve seen over the last 20 years are more important than the negative.

“Young people are in many ways making better individual choices, and there are some societal changes that are supporting children’s development, such as expanded health insurance, reductions in lead levels, a focus on delaying pregnancy while completing high school and getting post-secondary education, and higher taxes and restrictions on smoking,” said Dr. Kristen Anderson Moore of Child Trends, a major data source on children and youth that America’s Promise consulted with in writing Our Work.

Moore added that the declines in physical activity, increased stress, economic difficulties, and rising inequalities are concerning, “but the progress being made on measures of well-being indicates that progress is possible on these as well.”

Figure A: Racial and ethnic makeup of children and youth. Figure B: Child Poverty Rate

So what should youth development experts do with these numbers? Read “The Paradox of Progress” to find out.


This story is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.