Survey Says: S.F. Teens Give Birth at Half State Rate -- But are Shot Dead at Twice State Rate

Categories: Government, Health

If only they could teach San Francisco students to dodge bullets

A yearlong survey of San Francisco's students has revealed that the city's youth is right on par with the state average -- but not in the manner you'd guess. Our teenagers give birth at only half the frequency of their peers throughout California. Yet they also are murdered at twice the state clip. So everything evens out, right?

"That's a morbid way of looking at it, but that's exactly what the data is telling us," acknowledges Marlo Simmons, coordinator of the city's Adolescent Health Working Group, which released its survey late last month (you can read it all right here).

The 77-page report is a dream come true for local Cliff Clavens; Imagine the response at parties if you broke the ice by querying "Did you know that 1,600 folks aged 12 to 24 are homeless in San Francisco?" or "Did you know that whites make up 45 percent of all San Franciscans but just 19 percent of those 24 or younger?" or even "Did you realize that 94 percent of murdered San Franciscans under the age of 25 are high school dropouts?"

But, in short, one impression is hard to miss: San Francisco ostensibly done a relatively good job keeping our young people from smoking, doing drugs, and impregnating one another -- but not from killing one another.

Some of the most eye-catching data the survey recorded dealt with teen sexuality. Who would have thought that in sex-positive San Francisco, 28 percent of teens would report having engaged in sexual intercourse -- only a little more than half the state average of 48 percent?

Simmons and others are keen to chalk that one up to early and effective sex education programs in schools. They may well be right -- but it warrants mentioning that this survey was given to high school students. Many of those having sex early and often may well have dropped out of high school.

Somewhat confoundingly, while San Francisco teens have less sex than their peers statewide, they engage in high-risk sexual behavior at a nearly identical rate. Simmons explanation: Just a few folks are skewing the data by engaging in scads of risky behavior (this is a variation on the "Keith Richards has done all the drugs" jokes, only it's serious).

You know what puts the damper on a positve report about the youth of today? Murders. Lots of murders. Of the 98 recorded homicides in San Francisco in 2007, 35 of the victims were 24 or younger. When you consider that this age group only represents about 10 percent of San Francisco's population, young folks are slain at an extremely disproportionate rate.

Other grim tallies from the survey:

  • Youth homicide is the leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24 in
    San Francisco (30 per 100,000), and is nearly twice the statewide rate;

  • African American and Latino youth are greatly overrepresented in
    homicides, with 90 percent of young homicide victims in 2007 being
    either African American (54 percent) or Latino (37 percent).
Why might this be? Hopefully we'll have some answers for you later this week.

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