Alarming Social Indicators for American Youth

November 13th, 2013 by Leave a Comment

(This article is an excerpt from “MORE THAN SCORES An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools” published by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.)



Any meaningful discussion of parents’ preferences in choosing the most appropriate education for their children can take place only in the context of the difficult social and cultural conditions facing elementary and secondary school families in modern America. Some of the relevant statistics include the following:

• In 2011, 40.8 percent of all births were to unmarried mothers. Among Hispanics, that figure was 53 percent and, among blacks, it was 72 percent.

• As of 2011, 25.8 percent of children in America were being raised by a single parent.

• In 2012, 6.5 percent of eighth graders, 17 percent of 10th graders, and 22 percent of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month.

• As of 2012, 11 percent of all American children ages four to 17 (more than six million in all) have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an increase of 16 percent since 2007.


• In 2012, 14.8 percent of high school seniors used a prescription drug non-medically in the past year.  Data for specific drugs show the most commonly abused prescription drugs by teens are the stimulant Adderall and the pain reliever Vicodin.

• In 2010, only 52 percent of black male ninth graders graduated from high school in four years, compared with 58 percent of Latino male ninth graders and 78 percent of white, non-Latino male ninth graders.

• On any given day in 2007, nearly 23 percent of all young black men ages 16–24 who had dropped out of high school were in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution in America.

• Black high school dropouts in 2007 experienced the highest jobless rate at 69 percent followed by Asians at 57 percent and whites at 54 percent.

• In a 2011 nationally representative sample of youth in grades nine through 12, 12 percent reported being in a physical fight on school property in the 12 months before the survey; 5.9 percent reported they did not go to school on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school; 5.4 percent reported carrying a weapon on school property one or more days in the 30 days before the survey; and 20 percent reported being bullied on school property and 16 percent reported being bullied electronically during the 12 months before the survey.

Friedman-2• In 2011, students ages 12–18 were victims of about 1,246,000 nonfatal victimizations at school, including 648,600 thefts and 597,000 violent victimizations (simple assault and serious violence).

• During the 2009–10 school year, 16 percent of public schools reported that gang activities had occurred and about 20 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that gangs were present at their schools.

• As classroom discipline problems undermine teacher control and effectiveness and the learning environment for students, instead of helping state and local school districts address the problem, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice have launched a campaign against public school districts that, in their view, engage in the disproportionate discipline of minority students, especially black and Hispanic students.

• Among U.S. high school students surveyed in 2011, 47.4 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse; 33.7 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse during the previous three months;  15.3 percent had sex with four or more people during their life; an estimated 8,300 young people ages 13–24 years in the 40 states reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had an HIV infection in 2009; nearly half of the 19 million new STDs each year are among young people ages 15–24 years; and more than 400,000 teen girls ages 15–19 gave birth in 2009.

• About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by the age of 18, and major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among Americans ages 15–44.

Remarkably, considering the gravity and impact of those alarming statistics and facts, few public discussions or debates about them occur at the national, state, or local level.

About The Authors:

James P. Kelly was primary author of the Georgia Charter Schools Act of 1998 and is founder of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program.  President George W. Bush appointed Kelly to serve as a representative to UNESCO.  He is General Counsel of Georgia Community Foundation.

Dr. Benjamin Scafidi is economics professor at Georgia College and State University, Senior Fellow at The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, former chair of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and former education policy adviser to the Governor’s Office of Georgia.

Kelly and Scafidi are Senior Fellows at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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