By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Anyone who’s seen even a glimpse of the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant knows that teen pregnancy is often traumatic and fraught with pain and uncertainty.
Typical episode titles include, “Party girl with troubled past gets pregnant while her mom is in jail,” “All American girl gets pregnant from a one night stand,” and “Ex-party girl tries to get her stoner boyfriend to straighten up before their bundle of joy arrives.”
But in human and economic costs, there’s little entertainment value when it comes to Florida’s more than 496,000 teen child births over the past two decades.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teens and their children are much more likely to have lower education, health and economic outcomes than those who wait to have children. As a result, taxpayers are on the hook for billions in related costs, according to a new study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Funded in part by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the study says Florida’s taxpayers contributed $443 million in teen childbearing costs in 2010, the most recent data available. Nationwide, taxpayers spent $9.4 billion.
“In addition to improving the well-being of children, youth and families, reducing teen pregnancy also saves taxpayer dollars,” Sarah Brown, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
It’s a subject that can ruffle politically correct feathers, and focusing on costs appears to be another way to address the problem.
After controlling for differences in mothers’ characteristics, the study compared estimated costs for teen mothers participating in government assistance programs with mothers in their early twenties.
Some of the programs considered in the analysis were Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families. The latter two were formerly known as food stamps and child welfare, respectively.
The good news is that births among 15 to 19-year-old girls has been cut nearly in half since 1991. Still, 17,125 children were born to teenage mothers in the Sunshine State in 2011, ranking Florida 25th among states.
According to the federal Office of Adolescent Health, adolescents who have a baby are less likely to finish high school, are more likely to be poor as adults and are more likely to rely on public assistance than those who do not have a teen birth.
Local governments in Florida received more than $4.8 million in federal grants to combat teen pregnancy, including $778,000 for Planned Parenthood. A $2.7 million abstinence grant was awarded to the Florida Department of Health.
“If we reduce the rate of teen pregnancy, we’ll reduce the public costs of funding teen pregnancy,” Jessica Sheets Pika, spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told Watchdog.org.
Contact William Patrick at [email protected]