Tag Archives: poor children

Teen Birth Rates on the Rise — Policies to Reverse Course

As recently reported in USA Today, a report issued by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that between 2005 and 2006, the teen birth rate increased in 26 states, reversing a 14-year decline in teen birth rates. While states that historically had the lowest birth rates showed non-significant changes (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), states with already high teen birth rates (Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas) showed increases, leaving Mississippi with the highest rate of 68.4 births for every 1,000 female teen ages 15-19. Alaska showed the greatest increase in teen birth rates (up 19%), while the District of Columbia reported the most dramatic decline in rates (down 24%).

The numbers do not bode well for child wellbeing. In study after study, research has shown that children born and raised in single mother households are poorer than other children, and that other negative child outcomes follow. Children born to teen unmarried mothers, who often interrupt schooling to have their babies, are most vulnerable. A Hoffman and Foster study cited in a recent volume of the Future of Children volume on Poverty estimated that delaying childbearing among teens would increase median family income by a factor of 1.5 to 2.2, and reduce poverty rates by even more.

The policy goal, therefore, is to reverse course and return to the downward trend in teen pregnancy. But how do we do that? In their Future of Children article on this topic, Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson demonstrate that programs to prevent teen childbearing by reducing sexual activity and promoting contraceptive use have NOT been proven to be successful. More often than not, programs designed to postpone sexual behavior fail to delay its onset or reduce its frequency. Some more intensive interventions that provide mentoring and constructive after-school activities have had more positive results, but it is unclear whether these can be replicated on a larger scale.
Two other Future of Children authors, Paul Amato and Rebecca Maynard agree that the evidence on the effectiveness of programs is slim, and what we do know is not encouraging. However, they note that the programs have never truly been tested in an experimental setting. Therefore, they argue that schools should continue to offer health and sex education, starting no later than middle school, and that promising programs should be tested using the “gold standard” of research, where the comparison group is truly “treatment free.” Armed with good social science data, the federal government could provide school districts with tested curriculum models.
Since some teens, particularly low-income youth, still get pregnant despite access to contraception, we need to consider and challenge the social norms that have led to acceptance of teen child bearing. Education programs and public service campaigns (some of which are profiled in “Using the Media to Promote Adolescent Wellbeing") can support the message that nonmarital childbearing, particularly in the teenage years, is NOT an expected stage in life.
The investment in good, research based programs would be worth it. If a universal program initiative succeeded in cutting the teenage birth rate in half, the estimated return on the investment would be approximately 20 percent.
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Recession Hard on Young Men — A Bad Problem Getting Worse

The Boston Globe reported on Friday, December 5, 2008 that men are being hit by the current recession in much larger numbers than women. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the industries where men dominate – manufacturing, construction, and investment services – are the ones losing jobs the fastest. According to the Globe, there are 1.1 million fewer men working in the U.S. than a year ago at this time, but there are 12,000 more women working. “Losing Jobs in Unequal Numbers,” page A1.

While cuts are across industries, highly educated men are much more likely to bounce back, while lower-educated men will fare the worst. Wages and employment for lower-educated men have been declining for the past 30 years, and this current recession is expected to make an already bad problem much worse. Both family income and family structure are affected as low income men are left unable to support families they start – leaving more children vulnerable in single-mother, poor households.
A recent Future of Children journal and policy brief addressed this issue, arguing that many of society’s ills – delinquency and crime, school dropout, unemployment and nonwork, nonmarital births, and poverty are all associated disproportionately with young men – and offering two quite different approaches to helping poor men and their children.
Gordon Berlin proposes a carrot approach in his article – giving men an incentive to work by extending the earned income tax credit to supplement the earnings of all adult low-wage fulltime workers, regardless of whether they have children or are married, and based on individual income rather than joint or family income. The potential result is a system that actually rewards marriage of two low-income working partners, and thus encourages formation of two-parent, two-worker households – a boon for poor children.
Lawrence Mead goes in a different direction in his article and proposes a stick approach to employing low-income men. In particular, he looks to the child support and criminal justice systems as potential partners in a “help with hassle” approach. Essentially men with unpaid child support judgments and parolees leaving prison would be told to settle any debts they have to their children and get a job – or be required to join a work program where they would be closely supervised and, particularly in the case of prisoners, offered workplace instruction. If they failed to participate, they would face prison.
Neither of these proposals is inexpensive, and both could very well meet with resistance. Therefore the two authors suggest that rather than implementing nationwide, each should be tested in large-scale demonstrations – preferably using random assignment design – to see if in fact these interventions in the lives of low-income men make a difference and have a beneficial impact on their children.