Teen Pregnancy Costs California Hundreds of Millions

Teen pregnancy has always been a costly problem for everyone involved; including the taxpayers. A study released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy on April 29th, estimates that teen pregnancy costs California taxpayers $965 million a year. In the United States, the annual total is $9.4 billion.

The study is an update of research conducted for the National Campaign in 2004 by Saul Hoffman, Ph.D. of the University of Delaware and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It included a number of variables when determining the financial burden of early pregnancy on public systems:

  • costs of public health care including Medical and the Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • increased risk of involvement in the child welfare system
  • increased risk of incarceration if the child reaches young adulthood
  • loss of tax revenue due to lower earnings and less spending for both the young mother and father

The first study showcased in Dr. Hoffman’s book, Kids Having Kids: Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy, states his research was based on one fundamental question: “If we could change a young woman’s age at first birth, but not change anything else about her, what impact would that have on her subsequent life outcomes and the life outcomes of her children?”

However, teen pregnancy is not an issue that affects all youth equally.

“Research has shown that children born to teen mothers are twice as likely to enter foster care as compared to children born to mothers who were age 20-21,” said Bill Albert, Chief Program Officer for the National Campaign. “This increased likelihood of participating in foster care leads to additional public spending.”

While only about five percent of teens in foster care give birth in any given year, the cumulative birth rate is dramatically higher than the general population. According to a study published by the Children’s Data Network at the University of Southern California last year, more than one in four girls in foster care at age 17 had given birth at least once before age 20.

Another report titled Pregnancy, Parenting, and Intergenerational Maltreatment, funded and published by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation last year, found that “girls in foster care are 2.5 times more likely than other girls to be pregnant by age 19; nearly one third (32%) of girls who have been in foster care have at least one child by age 19.”

Julie Cederbaum, Ph.D, co-investigator for the report, says teenage foster youth are more likely to get pregnant for a number of reasons, including: unstable housing situations, lack of role models, less supervision, lack of resources to purchase birth control and a lack of knowledge and skill building on how to use and/or negotiate birth control with their partners. Beyond these external factors, Cederbaum also mentioned evidence suggesting that having children at a young age may be a conscious decision among foster youth, driven by a desire to build a family of their own.

“There is no simple answer on why foster youth have a greater likelihood to become parents,” she said. “Some evidence does suggest that those kids who come from an unstable or broken home try to create a family of their own. They want a normal family like they wanted to be a part of when they were growing up.”

Despite the high costs associated with teen pregnancy cited in the National Campaign’s study it is a mere fraction of the total price tag.

“As we cannot measure and include all outcomes and all costs, this analysis should be considered conservative,” the study reads. “That is, it is likely that the full costs of a teen birth are greater than the figures presented here.”

Current proposed legislation in California would aid transition-aged foster youths in finding a more independent living arrangement through financial support. It would especially encourage eligible pregnant and parenting foster youth to obtain additional support including a foster parent or mentor to help share responsibility of the child.

To read the full report, please click here.

Teddy Lederer is a reporter for the Chronicle of Social Change.

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