California’s remarkable 15-year decline in teen birth rates came to an end in 2006, according to a study released last week by the Public Health Institute (PHI). The report estimates teen births cost California taxpayers $1.7 billion per year.
While the rate increase was small – rising from 37.2 births per 1,000 teens to 37.8 – it signals the end of an era in California that saw an unprecedented decrease from a nationwide high in 1991 of 70.9 births per 1,000 teens to well below the current national average of 41.9, according to the report.
“California had just a slight increase overall but in some really challenging counties the rates were decreasing,” said Patsy Montgomery, regional director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood.
The total 52,770 children born to teen mothers in 2006 cost the state an estimated $2,493 per baby. The Oakland-based Public Health Institute calculated the loss based on welfare costs, medical costs, lost tax revenue on the mother and father’s future incomes and consumption as well as increased foster care placement costs.
The study’s authors calculated rates and costs by state senate districts to determine whether the problem is limited to a few geographical areas. They discovered the problem to be widespread, however, with rates rising in 32 out of the 40 districts.
“The costs to local communities continue to increase as the number of teen births rise with the increasing teen population and now the increasing teen birth rate on top of that,” said Dr. Carmen Nevarez, PHI’s medical director and vice president of external relations. “On a community-by-community basis, we’re seeing individual legislative districts costing taxpayers as much as $100 million a year due to avoidable teen pregnancies. That’s money few California communities can afford to throw away.”
Yolo County falls under the fifth senatorial district, which was ranked 18th in teen birth rates, with 44.8 births per 1,000 teens for a total of 1,673. This is an increase of 2.2 births since 2004 for an estimated annual cost to taxpayers of $54 million.
Despite the increase, California’s teen birth rate remains below the national average and substantially below the rate of demographically similar states. Texas, which by law teaches exclusively abstinence-only sex education, has a birth rate of 64.3 births per 1,000 teens.
“California was the first state and continues to be a leader in refusing abstinence-until-marriage federal program funding,” Montgomery said. “All we have to do is look at Texas to see why it’s important to have comprehensive sex education.”
For the past decade, California has been a national leader in focusing on and investing in research-based policies and programs for teen pregnancy prevention, according to the report. California’s efforts have spanned the administration of three governors and across both political parties.
“Abstinence-only programs tell people that condoms don’t work and using them is like playing Russian roulette,” Montgomery said. “When you look at national studies, teenagers taught abstinence and comprehensive [sex] education both start having sex at the same age, but comprehensive teens use condoms while abstinence teens don’t.”
The report also points out that California’s teen birth rate is four times higher than the median rate of 16 other Western democracies -9.2 births per 1,000 teens.
“This discrepancy reinforces that California cannot be complacent with the status quo,” said Dr. Norman Constantine, PHI senior scientist and lead author of the report in a press release. “We have a lot more work to do to realize our full potential in reducing teen birth rates.”
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at email@example.com.