More children in Essex County are living in poverty, but fewer are exposed to damaging lead and teen births have fallen dramatically. The available data paint a mixed picture of how children and youth in the county are faring.
Children are set on a trajectory through life in their earliest years, and even before they are born. A healthy pregnancy has a better chance of resulting in a healthy, full-term baby. In Essex County, most pregnant women begin prenatal care in their first trimester, which is the first step toward good birth outcomes. However, the rates vary among racial and ethnic groups, with 90% of Asian mothers, 86% of white mothers, 79% of Hispanic mothers and 81% of African American mothers beginning care early.
Premature babies are at higher risk for a host of problems and delays. In Essex County in 2021, 10% of births were preterm, equal to state and close to national rates. Infant mortality, the death of babies before age 1, has declined from 4.9 per 1,000 live births in 2003-07 to 4.4 in 2015-19 (rates are five-year averages).
Lead is an especially powerful environmental toxin for babies and young children that can cause permanent damage to cognitive, physical and behavioral abilities. The rate of elevated lead levels in children has been falling, down 43% from 2010 to 2018, to 2.6 per 1,000 children.
Perhaps the greatest risk factor to children’s success is poverty. In 2017-21, 13% of Essex County children were living at or below the poverty level, up from 12% in 2000 but below the national rate of 17%. The cities of Lawrence and Lynn had higher rates, 24% and 19%, and poverty was greater among African American (22%) and Hispanic (23%) children.
As children grow up, some exhibit risky behavior. Teen births in Essex County have fallen more than 77% since 2000 to 8 per 1,000 in 2020. This is somewhat higher than the state rate but far below the national rate of 15. Youth arrests, in contrast, have fluctuated up and down over the past decade. In 2021, Essex County recorded 1,750 youth arrests, a rate of 22 per 10,000 youth, similar to the state rate and above a similar county, Middlesex, MA (11). About 6% of young people between 16 and 19 are not in school or working –similar to the national rate of 7% but above the state rate (5%).