By Mark Glennon -
The full impact will materialize only over many years, but my vote for the best news in Chicago this year was the huge drop in teenage births to a historic low. As recently as 1999, the rate of teenage births was over 3.5 times the current rate, and the improvement has been across all racial and ethnic groups. With births now at 27.5 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19, Chicago is now not far above the national average of 22.3.
Few matters are as well documented by research as the value of waiting to have a baby until you have a committed partner and the financial means to raise a child. Couple it with getting a high school diploma and holding a full-time job and you have a 98% chance of avoiding poverty and joining the middle class.
It’s not just poverty that’s linked to teenage births. The children face increased risk of lives marked by crime, poor educational performance and bad health. According to the federal government, teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers between $9.4 and $28 billion a year through public assistance payments, lost tax revenue, and greater expenditures for public health care, foster care, and criminal justice services.
Both the left and right should be pleased with Chicago’s progress since the drop is apparently not attributable to more abortions. Its frequency also dropped in Cook County and statewide, mirroring a national trend that has the rate now at it’s lowest since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
Mayor Emanuel and Chicago’s Department of Public Health credit themselves and federal funding for the drop in teen births. Maybe that’s right, I don’t know — Chicago’s progress is part of a similar national trend. Salute to them if it is right and to anybody else working on the issue.
Young women in poverty seek meaning in their lives by having a child, but end up contributing to the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.
Maybe that cycle is finally breaking.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints. Opinions expressed are his own.
Published first on Wirepoints, submitted to Illinois Review.