When the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases its annual report on the condition of children, the results are predictable.
Tennessee children, on average, have a lower birth weight, a higher death rate, a higher teen pregnancy rate and a higher school dropout rate. There are also more children here living in poverty and more single-parent families, among other things, than in most other states.
Heard it before? Indeed, the results in the Volunteer State have varied little over the quarter century of the report.
This year, the foundation also broke the data down by racial and ethnic groups. The results are no less predictable.
More Tennessee minority children have lower birth rates, are less proficient in reading and math, graduate from high school in smaller percentages, have more teen births, have fewer higher-education degrees, live in fewer two-parent homes and live in more poverty than children in most other states.
It's a pity, though, the foundation doesn't stress the obvious.
n Children who live in two-parent homes live in less poverty, are more proficient in reading and math, have a higher high school-graduation rate, have fewer teen births and have more higher-education degrees.
Further, according to the study "Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences" by Bradford Wilcox for the Institute for American Values, children raised in intact married families are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to be physically or sexually abused, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors, have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married, are less likely to become pregnant or impregnate someone as a teenager, and are less likely to be raised in poverty.
n Children who are more proficient in reading and math have a higher graduation rate and more higher- education degrees.
In fact, according to ReadyNation, a business partnership for early childhood and economic success, children not reading proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
n Children who have fewer teen births have a higher graduation rate and more higher-education degrees.
According to the study "Teenage Births: Outcomes for Young Parents and Their Children," only 41 percent of teen mothers who have a child before age 18 ever complete high school. And only 2 percent of young teen mothers obtain a college degree by age 30.
n Children who live in less poverty are more proficient in reading and math, have a higher high school-graduation rate, have fewer teen births and have more higher-education degrees.
On poverty alone, according to the "Teenage Births" study, 78 percent of children born to teenage mothers who never married and who did not graduate from high school live in poverty compared to 9 percent of children born to women over age 20 who are currently married and did graduate from high school.
So just where do those statistics cross?
You can make the connection yourself, but children do better who live in two-parent homes, are more proficient in reading and math, have fewer teen births and live in less poverty.
So what conclusions can be drawn?
Parents should stay married, make sure their children are educated, encourage abstinence (or, at least, no unprotected sex) and work to stay out of poverty.
If parents do all of the above, their children have a statistically greater chance of having better outcomes in every category. Social engineers can tinker with the numbers all they want, but they can't come up with conclusions different than those.
It's that simple.
Well, it is and it isn't.
All parents can't -- and shouldn't -- stay married. All parents can't find jobs or jobs that pay enough to live on. And all parents can't be with their children every minute of the day to make sure they're doing what they should. But those things create a solid base for a child.
So, to know only that Tennessee children in general, and Tennessee minority children specifically, are worse off than other children is, at most, interesting.
To know why they're worse off and not stress what their parents can do to change their lot is wrong.
To know they're worse off and continue to stress the facts so all involved see themselves as victims is both criminal and only perpetuates the cycle.