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Number of teenage parents growing in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — The state's most comprehensive annual survey of how Utah children are doing shows the 19 and under population is booming, the number of teens having kids is rising and so are families receiving government income and food subsidies.

"Measures of Child Well-being in Utah" (www.utahchildren.org) compiled by the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children, pegs the total number of children in the state at 849,635, or 23 percent more than when the survey was first taken in 1996.

Between 2004 and 2008, the most recent year for which complete data are available, the number of births to teens climbed by more than 30 percent, to 1,122 from 854.

Extrapolated to the full female teen population, the birth rate per 1,000 girls was 18 in 2008, up from 15 per 1,000 in 2004. That was far below the national average of 41 births per 1,000 teens in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, a growing public health problem among young women in Utah was a nearly 70 percent increase in the rate of chlamydia infections: 820 per 100,000 teens in 2008, compared with 574 four years earlier.

The economic downturn is reflected in the data book, which tracked enrollment in the U.S. Food Stamp program and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families between February 2008 and December 2009 — 5,250 people were enrolled in temporary assistance program in 2008, compared with 7,434 at the end of 2009.

Similarly, the number of Utahns receiving food stamps rose from 55,907 to 97,258 during the same period.

Terry Haven, director of the Kids Count project for Voices for Utah Children, said the data are gathered and distributed to advocacy groups, government agencies and other child-related policymakers as a way to determine if programs directed at helping Utah children are working.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation underwrites the research in Utah and across the country "because it recognizes one important fact — we must measure child outcomes in order to contribute to public accountability for those outcomes. Casey understands that counting kids, tracking their progress or failure, results in a model for data-driven advocacy for children, their families and their communities," Haven said.

To put the data in context, Haven said if the 849,635 Utah children were reduced to a group of 100 Utah children:

76 are non-Hispanic white

16 are Hispanic/Latino

three are more than one race

two are Asian

two are American Indian or Alaskan Native

one is African American

one is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

19 are in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment

18 live in single-parent families

three live with their grandparents

11 live below the federal poverty level

and four live in extreme poverty (50 percent of the poverty level).

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com