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The kids are all right



For many Arizonans, teenagers as a group are a worrisome topic. “How will they possibly run things?” we wonder.

It’s no idle question. Arizona’s 600,000-plus teenagers are the entrepreneurs, employers and workers of tomorrow. They are the stewards of our future, pioneers already coping with our new digital universe and the myriad social transformations it entails.

If national and state trends continue, today’s teens may become the first generation in U.S. history to be less educated than the one before.

At the same time, Arizona teens will be entering key work force positions just as the state’s population of retirees expands rapidly.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arizona already is second in the nation (behind Utah) in its “dependency ratio,” meaning that it has a high proportion of children and retirees compared to its working-age population.

As workers, today’s teenagers – skilled or not – will have lots of youngsters and elders “dependent” upon them. Including us.

So. Should we be very very afraid? Probably not.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University recently examined the issue by asking professionals who work with young people every day, and most important, teens themselves.

We distributed questionnaires to teenagers through organizations across Arizona asking what they think about their lives and about the major issues facing the nation today.

The survey, completed by more than 950 young people, found most to be reasonably content, trusting, and optimistic. For example:

• Asked about the essential elements of a “good life,” most teens chose “doing work that you enjoy” and “having a happy family.”

• Two-thirds of respondents said they do volunteer work.

• Most teens say they have lots of friends, enjoy diversity, trust the police and look forward to the future.

• A college degree is key to a good future and they expect to attend college.

This doesn’t sound like the denizens of Teenage Wasteland. True, most of the teens surveyed hold views contrary to those of some adult Arizonans. For example, majorities of respondents said illegal immigrants should get the chance to become citizens and global warming is for real.

But who expects teens to agree with older people?

The survey process itself was enlightening. We distributed the questionnaires through organizations of all types for all kinds of teens, including teen leadership groups, social service agencies and high schools, expecting to get a smattering of response.

Instead, the survey stirred so much interest that leaders passed the questionnaires on to others and several told us how much their teens enjoyed discussing the issues and learning from each other. This points to a hunger among many Arizona young people for substantive discussion of real-life issues.

This is not to suggest that everything is fine. Our report – “Great Expectations: Arizona Teens Speak Out” – also includes data from regular statewide surveys of youth that note disturbingly high levels of risky behavior among Arizona teens, including substance abuse, violence and sexual activity and areas where interventions should be faster and better.

Still, we think the survey results help sketch a more realistic picture of Arizona’s teens, a picture that should make us – like them – more optimistic about the future.

At the same time, however, the results contain an implicit challenge.

Our teenagers are telling us that they want to go to college, they want to succeed, they want happy families and productive work. The unavoidable question: Who is going to help them do it?

It has to be us.

Bill Hart (left) and Richard Toon are research analysts at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.


“Great Expectations: Arizona Teens Speak Out” is available at morrisoninstitute.org.

Which of these is most important for your idea of a good life?

Doing work that you enjoy 58%

Having a happy family 57%

Doing good for others 33%

Having lots of money 20%

Being a celebrity 4%

Respondents could choose more than one answer.

Outlook on friends, parents, police

Percent who say they agree with these statements

I enjoy being among people with different backgrounds and lifestyles 93%

I have a lot of friends 84%

The future holds many good opportunities for me and my friends 78%

My parents usually notice when I do a good job and praise me for it 70%

Most police officers try to do their jobs fairly, legally 61%

My family has enough money to live comfortably and afford some luxuries 59%

Most people in my neighborhood can be trusted 51%

Percentages may not total 100 percent because of rounding.

Source: Morrison Institute for Public Policy, 2009

What are the main reasons Arizona teens get in trouble with the law?

They’re bored and looking for excitement 67%

They don’t have enough parental love and support 55%

They want to make quick money 54%

They’re forced to do illegal things by gangs 38%

They are unfairly targeted by police 24%

Respondents could choose more than one answer.

Source: Morrison Institute for Public Policy, 2009

What are the main reasons Arizona teens drop out of school?

Their parents don’t encourage or require them to stay in school 63%

They don’t think school will help them in life 59%

They want to get a job and make money 53%

They don’t like or respect the teachers 44%

It’s too hard to get good grades 40%

Respondents could choose more than one answer.

Source: Morrison Institute for Public Policy, 2009

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

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In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

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