Posts Tagged ‘teenage pregnancy’

The Myth

Is this the real problem facing America?

As a bunch of prominent Roman Catholics call on their fellow conservatives in the Republican candidate ranks to stop criticising welfare payments in a racist manner, a quick wander around the internet reveals the truth about who gets what from the American welfare pie.

The Myth: People on welfare are usually black, teenage mothers who stay on for up ten years at a time.

The Fact: Most welfare recipients are non-black, adult and on welfare less than two years at a time. According to the statistics, whites form the largest racial group on welfare, half of all welfare recipients leave in the first two years, and teenagers (often demonised “par example” as the core wastrels in the pack) form less than 8 percent of all welfare receiving mothers.

Here are the actual statistics on family welfare recipients:

Families on AFDC by Race

White    38.8%
Black    37.2
Hispanic 17.8
Asian     2.8
Other     3.4

Time on AFDC

Less than 7 months     19.0%
7 to 12 months         15.2
One to two years       19.3
Two to five years      26.9
Over five years        19.6

Number of children

One           43.2%
Two           30.7
Three         15.8
Four or more  10.3

Age of Mother

Teenager      7.6%
20 - 29      47.9
30 - 39      32.7
40 or older  11.8

Status of Father 1973 1992

Divorced or separated   46.5     28.6
Deceased                 5.0      1.6
Unemployed or Disabled  14.3      9.0
Not married to mother   31.5     55.3
Other or Unknown         2.7      5.5

It’s worth looking at teenagers in more detail, if only to restore some sanity to the discussion. As the statistics show, teenage mothers actually comprise a very small part of the family welfare population.

And contrary to popular belief, teenage pregnancy has declined in the last several decades. Many are surprised to learn that the height of teenage pregnancy in the U.S. actually occurred in the 1950s – a decade known for its conservative social values. Between 1960 and 1992, the number of births per 1,000 teenagers (aged 15-19) actually declined from 89 to 61.

However, this was also an era when individual welfare benefits declined. Between 1970 and 1991, the purchasing power of benefits for the typical AFDC family fell 42 percent, primarily as a result of state and federal cuts.  Ironically, many conservatives will be surprised to learn that their correlation still stands, even if they thought it was in the other direction.

However, the period from 1946 to 1963 is known as the “Baby Boom,” because all childbearing age groups – not just teenagers – were having children at unusually high rates. The teenage birth rate is not the only one that has declined in the decades since.

Furthermore, the socially conservative 50s featured much less sex education, and many sexually active teenagers were ignorant of birth control. Falling teenage birthrates inextricably are correlated with better sex education as well as falling individual welfare payments.

However, or perhaps one should say moreover, as candidates debate social policy, it is well worth looking beyond America’s boundaries, and comparing the US to Europe, as regards the success or otherwise of social policy in the area of teenage sexual behaviour.

In Europe, of course, early sex education is promoted to a far greater degree, birth control is more easily accessed, and also has far greater welfare benefits for mothers with dependent children. The success or failure of these two very different policies can be seen in the following statistics:

Sexually active teenage population

Norway          66%
United States 65 
United Kingdom  57
Germany         56
Canada          53
Italy           34
France          34

Percent who have not had intercourse by age 20

               Boys Girls 
Belgium         61     63
Netherlands     58     62
Germany         33     28
Norway          33     25
United Kingdom  24     23
France           9     25
United States 12 16 

Percent of sexually active single 15 to 19-year olds using birth control

Germany         95%
United Kingdom  92
Netherlands     88
Norway          87
Sweden          79
Denmark         70
United States 56 

Teen pregnancies per 1,000 teenagers

United States 98.0 
United Kingdom  46.6
Norway          40.2
Canada          38.6
Finland         32.1
Sweden          28.3
Denmark         27.9
Netherlands     12.1
Japan           10.5

Teenage mothers per 1,000 teenagers

United States 54 
United Kingdom  31
Canada          28
France          25
Norway          25
Germany         20
Finland         19
Denmark         16
Switzerland     10
Netherlands      9
Japan            4

In short, Americans teens are highly sexually active (whether or not legislators wish to admit that) and yet are the worst performers are regards birth control, unwanted pregnancies, and being a teenage Mom. Instead of criticising those that fall through the safety net, therefore, conservative politicians – indeed, all opinion formers – should be arguing for a radical reversal of the failed policies of the past.

Don’t hold your breath, but America needs more (and better) sex eduction, not less. And freer access to birth control and abortion, especially the “morning after pill”, not tighter.

People should also note: African-Americans comprise only 12 percent of the nation, but, according to the above figures, they comprise 37 percent of the welfare rolls. But this should not be surprising; in 1994, blacks had a poverty rate of 33 percent. Nothing unusual about finding poor people on welfare. In short, in the era of a half-black President, (I have often wondered why Obama is never described as ” yet another white President”, when he is as demonstrably as white as he is black, but that’s another article), the nation’s blacks in general are still much, much poorer than whites.

And, of course, many welfare recipients are not unemployed – they are employed in jobs that pay so poorly that they also need welfare.

The simple truth is that the GOP – and others – should stop highlighting race issues in welfare receipt, especially when they are erroneous, and start to answer the crucial question: “Why are blacks, even those in work, much less well off than their fellow Americans?”

The answer, of course, is racism that is still so deeply ingrained in American society – in education, in employment, in health care – that many people have lost the will to even see it, let alone change it.

Change we can believe in? I’d like to see that.

(Long – one might say pregnant – pause.)

Meanwhile, this is an interesting watch/listen: