Los Angeles boasts healthier-than-normal children at birth, but conditions deteriorate as the children age, says Jacquelyn McCroskey, associate professor at the School of Social Work.
When compared to the national average, the region had a smaller percentage of low birthweight babies (62 per 1,000 in Los Angeles vs. 72 nationwide) and a lower infant mortality rate (7.2 deaths per 1,000 vs. 8.4) in 1993.
“The early advantage may have to do with our large immigrant population,” she says. “We’re not sure why, but Latino babies tend to be born healthier. It may have to do with cultural differences during pregnancy.”
These children soon lose their edge, however, says McCroskey, who is also co-chair of the Data Analysis and Technical Assistance Subcommittee of the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council, which tracks countywide trends in child welfare. More than 1 in 3 Los Angeles children live in poverty, as compared to 1 in 5 nationwide. Between 1990 and 1994, reliance on public assistance among the county’s children increased dramatically, with Medi-Cal recipients up by 73 percent and food stamp recipients up by 135 percent.
With poverty comes a range of social ills. Com-pared with the national average, Los Angeles youths have higher rates of violent death (86 vs. 69 per 100,000), teen births (52 vs. 38 per 1,000), arrests (8.8 vs. 5.1 per 1,000) and high school dropouts (150 vs. 90 per 1,000).
“We’re not paying attention as a community to the large number of families who need community building and reinforcement,” she warns. “The more we back away from supporting parent education, decent parks, mentors, libraries and what all of us want for our own children, the higher the price we’re going to pay. We’ll have more serious cases in the end, meaning kids who turn to crime and get pregnant as teenagers.”

Children's Lives
per 1,000

low birthweight babies nationwide 72 Los Angeles 62
infant mortality nationwide 8.4 Los Angeles 7.2
arrests nationwide 5.1 Los Angeles 8.8
high school dropouts nationwide 90 Los Angeles 150

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"We're not paying attention to the large number of families who need community building and reinforcement."

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