By Maricha Harris
It’s no secret. Teen pregnancy and poverty are interconnected. In fact, three major predictors of a child’s likeliness to live in poverty are 1) being born to a teen mother, 2) being born to parents who aren’t married at birth and/or 3) being born to a mother with no high school diploma or GED, according to a 2004 report from the U.S. Congress Committee on Ways and Means.
Sixty-four percent of children who experience all three predictors are likely to live in poverty. In other words, a child is nine times more likely to live in poverty when born under all circumstances compared to those born under none of them, according to the 2004 report from the U.S. Congress Committee on Ways and Means.
In 2005, teen births represented 18.7 percent of all births in Milwaukee , making Milwaukee the second highest city in the nation for percentage of births to teens. It’s no surprise Milwaukee ’s poverty rate for 2011 was 29.4 percent.
Sadly, without prevention efforts, teen pregnancy cycles—and the problems associated with them—are likely to continue. Daughters of teen mothers are 83 percent more likely to become teen mothers, according to Rebecca Maynard, author of Kids Having Kids: Economic Costs and Social Consequences of Teen Pregnancy.
Teen pregnancy is neither an individual nor a family problem. It is a community problem. Long-term, the cost of one Milwaukee teen having a baby is $79,000.
While statistics and stories about teen pregnancy and poverty are disheartening, the good news is there is hope, and at the root of that hope is prevention.
The financial burden of teen pregnancy and the likelihood of generational poverty are major reasons to focus on prevention efforts. With sleeves rolled up, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and diverse leaders in social service, government, business, public health, education, philanthropy and in the faith-based community aligned efforts in 2006 to prevent teen pregnancy.
Thankfully, these collaborative prevention efforts led by United Way are working as births to teens between 15 to 17 year olds are declining. In 2006, 15 to 17 year olds were having babies at a rate of 52 births per 1,000 girls; that rate declined to 44 births per 1,000 girls in 2009, a 15 percent decrease.
Indeed, great strides have been made towards the goal to reduce Milwaukee ’s teen birth rate among 15 to 17 year olds by 46 percent by 2015. Silver Spring Neighborhood Center is one organization working to reduce teen pregnancy. In the past 11 years 99 percent of the center’s active youth have avoided teen pregnancy.
We all play a part in working to prevent teen pregnancy among future generations. That means parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, guardians and the like all have a role.
According to a 2010 periodic national survey by Bill Albert and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 46 percent of teens consider parents the most important influence when they make sexual decisions. That means teens want sexual information from their parents.
Let’s face it. Talking about sex may not always be easy, but it’s necessary. Children are being bombarded with sexual messages every day, so it’s crucial that parents have a strong and consistent message, too.
You can make talking with your children about sex easier. First, prepare. In order to communicate your own sexual values, you have to know them for yourself. Then decide what to say in advance.
Second, relax. Don’t feel pressured to know everything. Check out http://www.babycanwait.com/ to access a parent-child communication toolkit. The toolkit gives information on what is developmentally appropriate for your child as well as tips on how to have tough conversations.
Third, begin now. October is Let’s Talk Month. Plan to have an age-appropriate conversation now because children are our future, and it’s our duty to help them delay pregnancy and achieve their life goals.
Maricha Harris coordinates United Way ’s Healthy Girls grant at Silver Spring Neighborhood Center . Under the grant, she facilitates Making Proud Choices, an evidenced based teen pregnancy prevention curriculum for youth.