July/August Trends


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Trends and Transitions: July/August 2011

Child in a car booster seat

Giving Kids a Boost

The use of child safety seats has lowered infant deaths by 71 percent and toddler deaths by 54 percent from 1988 to 1994, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Still, car crashes are the leading cause of death among children.

All states and the District of Columbia require car seats. Each state, however, has different requirements. For the past decade, child safety seat requirements have been divided into three stages: infants using rear-facing seats, toddlers using forward-facing seats, and children using booster seats.

No state currently requires children over age 1 to ride in a rear-facing seat, but state regulations may soon be changing. A new guideline by the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep children in rear-facing seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. Rear-facing seats best protect the head, neck and torso in a front-on crash.

The academy also advises using booster seats until children are 4 feet 9 inches tall and between 8 and 12 years old. Booster seats adjust the car’s seat belt to best fit a child’s size—across the upper thighs, shoulder and chest rather than the stomach, neck or face.

After children have graduated from booster seats to seat belts, they should remain in the back seat through age 12, according to the CDC.
Forty-seven states and Washington, D.C., require children to be secured in a booster seat until they reach a certain age. Arizona, Florida, South Dakota and Puerto Rico do not have a specific booster seat law. Legislation died at the close of this year’s session in the Florida House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee that would have required booster seats for children 4 to 7 years old who are shorter than 4 feet 9 inches.

Hurricane Season Blows In

This year was the deadliest tornado season since 1936, and now we’re in hurricane season, which officially began June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.

36.8 million
The number of people most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes—the 12 percent of Americans who live near the coast in the states stretching from North Carolina to Texas.

Growth rate in this coastal population between 1960 and 2010.

The number of hurricanes last year.

The number of major hurricanes—Category 3 or higher—last year.

The number that made landfall in the United States last year.

The year the Weather Bureau began naming hurricanes. Names rotate in a six-year cycle.

Busiest hurricane season on record, forcing use of the Greek alphabet for naming purposes for the first time—28 named storms, 15 hurricanes, four reached Category 5 status.

The number of names the World Meteorological Organization has retired after they caused extensive damage: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, National Hurricane Center, Atlantic Oceanography and Meteorological Laboratory.

School Shots

As parents prepare their kids for a new school year, they have yet another thing to remember: Be sure their shots are up-to-date. To protect them from a variety of diseases and to protect the community from an outbreak of disease, all states require children to receive certain vaccinations before starting school. These requirements catch the children who did not receive immunizations as infants.

States set school immunization requirements, usually based on recommendations by the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of 15 health experts appointed by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Vaccines are one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are credited with saving millions of lives and preventing hundreds of millions of cases of disease. In addition, for every $1 spent on immunizations, $16 is saved in health care costs, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The vaccine against meningococcal disease is one of the newest requirements for students. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia require college students to receive either information on meningococcal disease or the vaccine. An advisory committee report in 2000 identified college freshmen living in dorms at a high risk of getting the disease, and in 2005 also recommended that young adolescents and students entering high school also receive the vaccine. Twenty states now include this younger group in their requirements. So far this year, eight states have bills pending to establish or modify laws on meningitis.

Vaccine requirements, however, are not without controversy. Some people oppose mandatory vaccinations, believing, among other things, that the risk of an adverse reaction is greater than the risk of contracting an infectious disease. Some opponents also contend vaccine requirements infringe on individual rights.

In response to these concerns, 20 states grant philosophical or personal belief exemptions from immunization requirements. Every state grants exemptions for medical reasons, and all, except Mississippi and West Virginia, grant religious exemptions.

In an effort to tighten exemptions, Washington state lawmakers in May passed a bill requiring parents claiming a personal belief exemption to show proof they have consulted a medical professional before their children are allowed to opt out of required immunizations.

Digital Democracy

Young people live in a digital world. They text, tweet and friend with ease. And, it turns out, this may be good for government. The online world can lead to real-world engagement. According to new research, students who use the Internet often are more likely to be civically involved.

Being part of online communities, political or not, exposes young people to diverse viewpoints and issues and “is related to higher levels of civic engagement,” says Joe Kahne, an education professor at Mills College and author of the study. This, he says, is good for democracy.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,500 young people and followed more than 400 of them from high schools across California for three-and-a-half years. They examined whether the participants used blogs or social networking sites to discuss issues, the Internet to get information about political or social issues, or e-mail to talk about these issues.

The study debunked some commonly held beliefs about teenagers and the digital world. Although many believe kids who spend a lot of time online become socially isolated, the opposite appears to be true. Young people involved in online communities were more likely to volunteer in their communities and participate in charitable work.
High schoolers involved online were either exposed to different viewpoints (57 percent) or none at all (34 percent), but few (5 percent) indicated they were exposed to only like-minded opinions—the so-called “echo chamber.”

The study also looked at young people’s ability to learn how to discern, interpret and apply information from the Web. Students who took some training in class on how to navigate, evaluate and participate in this online world increased their understanding of diverse perspectives and improved their likelihood of getting involved with civic and political issues online.

The results of the study—funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Education—were released by a new research network of scholars called Youth and Participatory Politics. The group will continue to investigate how digital media affect the political and civic engagement of young people. Stay connected.

Funeral Protests: Offensive but Protected

The Supreme Court ruled in March that the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest at a military funeral in Maryland, while offensive to most, was protected under the First Amendment. The protestors alerted local authorities beforehand, complied with police guidance, stayed 1,000 feet from the ceremony and, according to the high court, did not interfere with the funeral itself.

The court did not rule on the validity of Maryland’s new law that restricts funeral protests, since lawmakers passed it after the protest in question.

Currently, 45 states have laws prohibiting funeral protests. California, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Rhode Island and Virginia ban funeral protests without specific time-and-place restrictions. The remaining 38 states restrict when—from one hour before the service to two hours after—and where—from 100 feet to 1,500 feet—funeral protests may occur.

Lawmakers in 13 of these states are currently considering increasing the distance or lengthening the time allowed for demonstrations. Legislators in California and Florida may add time-and-place restrictions to their current laws.

The five states without prohibitions—Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and West Virginia— currently have proposed legislation addressing the issue and creating time-and-place restrictions on demonstrations.

Federal legislation has also been introduced to extend the picketing ban to five hours before and after a military funeral.

Union Membership, Just the Facts

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has a plethora of information on union membership. Here are a few findings, based on data from 2010:

  • 11.9 percent of U.S. workers were union members, down from 12.3 percent in 2009.
  • 12.6 percent of men and 11.1 percent of women were members.
  • 36.2 percent of public sector workers and 6.9 percent of private sector workers were members.
  • Government employees (783,000) comprised about half of the 1.6 million workers who were covered by a union contract but were not members of a union.
  • Members of unions earned, on average, $917 a week.
  • Those who were not represented by unions earned $717 a week.
  • Eight states had membership rates below 5 percent: North Carolina (3.2 percent), Arkansas and Georgia (4 percent each), Louisiana (4.3 percent), Mississippi (4.5 percent), South Carolina and Virginia (4.6 percent each) and Tennessee (4.7 percent).
  • Six states had rates greater than 17 percent: New York (24.2 percent), Alaska (22.9 percent), Hawaii (21.8 percent), Washington (19.4 percent), California (17.5 percent) and New Jersey (17.1 percent).
  • About half the 14.7 million union members lived in six states: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey.