First Things First: The cost of unwanted teen pregnancy

First Things First: The cost of unwanted teen pregnancy

July 7th, 2013 By Julie Baumgardner in Life Entertainment

There's reason to celebrate in the latest report about teen births in Hamilton County from Annie E. Casey Foundation Kid's Count.

In 2006, there were 223 teen out-of-wedlock births in the county compared to 101 in 2010, a striking 66 percent decrease -- good news not only for teens but for the entire community. Hamilton County's teen birth rate is 16.7 per 1,000 compared to the state rate of 20.2 per 1,000.

The decrease can be attributed to many things, including parents educating their teens about pregnancy prevention, media campaigns targeting pregnancy prevention and the many agencies in the community who work with teens to help them make the most of their teenage years.

Lest we get too caught up in celebrating, we cannot overlook the 101 babies that were born to teen moms and the cost that goes with that for the mom and the community at large.

Consider the costs connected to teen out-of-wedlock births according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.:

• Teens who have babies are less likely to finish high school. Two out of three teen mothers never graduate. The difference in annual earnings for someone with a high school diploma and without is about $10,000.

• Less than 2 percent of mothers who give birth before age 18 obtain college degrees by age 30.

• A teen mom's chances of living in and raising her child in poverty are about 80 percent.

• It is rare that a teen father marries the mother of his child, and many of them are not involved in the lives of their children. These absent fathers pay less than $800 annually to support their children, which makes sense considering they are usually in school themselves with no regular income.

• Births to teen mothers are more likely to be premature and at low birth weight and most teen moms are not covered by insurance.

• The cost nationally to taxpayers for out-of-wedlock teen childbearing is $10.9 billion annually.

While the financial costs are daunting, the much greater costs are what happens over time to these teen moms and their children. The future for both mother and child is complicated at best.

Daughters of teen mothers are two to three times more likely to become teen parents themselves, and sons born to teen moms are more likely to be incarcerated. Teen moms face an uphill battle trying to complete their education and escape poverty.

There is no question that we need to help these teen moms and their children, but research is clear that the absolute best thing we can do is educate them about teen pregnancy prevention, help them have a vision for their future, encourage them to at least graduate from high school and surround them with caring adults who will cheer them on as they work to accomplish their goals.

Parents, business leaders, schools, agencies, we all have roles to play. The success of future generations is in our hands. What will you do?

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.