Children in Orange County receive better prenatal care and report fewer instances of child abuse than in most other parts of the state, but generally suffer from an economic squeeze in the home and in school, according to the annual California Report Card compiled by the national Children Now advocacy group.
Despite a booming economy and a relatively low rate of unemployment, the report ranked Orange County 23rd among the state's 58 counties in the percentage of children living in low-income households. Their quality of life was further eroded by the county's relatively high rents--ranked 51st--and child-care costs--ranked 26th for infants and 41st for preschoolers.
"That there is not adequate child care in Orange County is no secret to those of us who work in the field," said Barbara Oliver, director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Orange County. "We hear frequently from consumers and from professionals working in the field that it is hard to find adequate child care that you feel comfortable with and that is affordable."
Economics formed the underpinning of the report, which listed Orange County's unemployment rate at 3.3%, fourth best in the state, with an average of two job-seekers for every new job, compared with a statewide average of seven.
While the report found that Orange County children are faring relatively well, it said their lives could be improved by state implementation of expanded health care coverage, an earned-income tax credit, better access to affordable child care and improved collection of child-support payments.
Overall, the report found that one-quarter of California youths under 18 live in poverty, and nearly one-half are members of low-income families, defined as households with income less than $29,000 for a family of four.
"Hard work no longer equates with economic security," Children Now President Lois Salisbury said in releasing the report. "Concerted county, state and private-sector actions are all needed if we expect children to thrive in the new economy."
The report includes some intriguing details.
It counted 715,195 children in Orange County 18 or younger last year, and found that fewer than half--49%--were white, reflecting a trend that population experts have said will make traditionally defined minorities the eventual majority of Orange County residents.
The report found 38% of youths were Latino, 2% were African Americans, and 11% were Asian or of other ethnic backgrounds.
The report also found that Orange County children suffer from overcrowded schools, ranking 57th in average class size (30.3 students). Per-pupil expenditures also were near the bottom, ranking 48th at $4,060. The high school dropout rate was 2.7%, ranking 23rd, and 35% of graduates were considered prepared for college, ranking 20th.
Among Latinos, the dropout rate was 5.1%, and only 14% of Latino graduates were considered prepared for college. Statewide ethnic comparisons were unavailable.
The report found that 34% of mothers in Orange County have not completed high school.
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Report Card on Kids
Orange County youth under 18 make up about one-fourth of the population and are generally better off than kids in most other counties. A snapshot from four angles and the county's rankings in 1996 (there are 58 counties in California, but in some cases information was not available from all):
Economics: Children Receiving Welfare
The percentage of children covered by Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payments ebbed, leaving the county in the top 10 statewide.
County rating: 10th of 58
Education: Dropout Rate
The high school dropout rate has edged down but is barely in the top half of all counties.
County rating: 23rd of 57
Safety: Child Abuse
Both the number of reports and rate per 1,000 dropped, placing the county near the top statewide.
County rating: 7th of 54
Abuse reports Rate/1,000 1994 38,758 57 1995 34,541 50 1996 31,847 45
Health: Teen Birth Rate
The teen birth rate per 1,000 declined, but rates in the middle of all counties.
County rating: 25th of 46
Source: Children Now