May 14, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Drop in teen pregnancy welcome news

A new report shows Indiana has made great strides in reducing teen pregnancy, but the costs borne by the public are staggering.

According to the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Indiana has seen a 38 percent decline in the teen birth rate between 1991 and 2010 for teen girls ages 15 to 19. That saved taxpayers an estimated $192 million in 2010, compared to what would have been paid if rates had not fallen.

However, teen births cost taxpayers $227 million in 2010. Expenses were incurred in public health care, increased participation in child welfare, and increased rates of incarceration and lost tax revenue caused by decreased earnings and spending.

Despite the birth rate dropping to historic lows, Indiana taxpayers shelled out an estimated $6 billion between 1991 and 2010 for the 214,623 teen births recorded. In 2012, there were 33 Indiana births per 1,000 girls, according to The National Campaign. On a positive note: The report indicates about 87 percent of teens use any type of contraceptive method, regardless of grade level or whether they were male or female.

Although the numbers are encouraging, we hope public health officials, schools, parents and teens do not become complacent about spreading the lesson that teen pregnancy and birth can have major life-changing consequences — mostly for the bad.

It’s difficult to pin down specific reasons for the decline, but it’s plausible that getting the message out about the consequences of teen pregnancy is succeeding. Sex education in schools, the availability of birth control, a poor economy, and yes, even the popularity of MTV’s “Teen Mom” have had an impact. Let’s not diminish the importance the role parents can have in their teen child’s life, too.

It bears repeating the teens who become mothers are likely to face a difficult road. The National Campaign reports one-third are likely to drop out of high school; 67 percent who move out of the family home are likely to live below the poverty line; 63 percent of teen mothers are likely to receive public assistance, with less than one quarter receiving any type of child support.

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