Teen Birth Rate Rise in California Takes Toll

Armen Hareyan's picture

The end of California’s 15-year decline in teen pregnancy and birth rates couldn't come at a worse time for a state already in fiscal crisis. According to the No Time for Complacency: Teen Births in California report released today by the Public Health Institute (PHI), rising teen birth rates are costing California taxpayers $1.7 billion dollars a year, levying an average taxpayer cost per county of more than $29 million.

Although California’s teen birth rate remains lower than the United States’ rate, and substantially lower than demographically comparable states such as Texas, the report’s authors caution that rates remain unacceptably high in comparison with the rates in other Western democracies. In fact, at 37.8 births per 1,000 teens, California’s rate is four times higher than the 9.2 median rate recorded by 16 other Western democracies.

“This discrepancy reinforces that California cannot be complacent with the status quo,” explains lead-author Dr. Norman Constantine, PHI senior scientist and clinical professor of public health at UC Berkeley. “We have a lot more work to do to realize our full potential in reducing teen birth rates.”

Biennially the report examines birth rates for the state and by state Senate Districts. In the two years since the last study, 32 of the state’s 40 Senate Districts have experienced an increase in teen birth rate, with changes ranging from a decrease of 2.7 births per 1,000 to the largest increase of 8.9 births per 1,000.

Three regions of the state suffered especially high rates: the Los Angeles area (Districts 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30 and 32), the Central Valley (Districts 12, 14, 16, and 18), and the Imperial Valley (District 40). Collectively, teen birth rates in those 13 districts are incurring nearly a billion dollars in annual taxpayer costs. Despite these high rates, two of these districts recorded some of the biggest reductions in the state – District 16 (Florez-Shafter) and District 22 (Cedillo-Los Angeles), with declines of 1.8 and 1.7 teen births per 1,000, respectively.

“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,” explains coauthor 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.”

Costs per district were calculated based on a comprehensive and rigorous series of cost analyses on teen pregnancy and parenting. Estimates of taxpayer costs (including lost tax revenue, and public medical and assistance costs) and total societal costs (also including lost income, productivity and private medical costs) were determined based on the total number of teen births in each senate district. The resulting costs depict a substantial challenge for districts already struggling with major revenue losses and cutbacks, and force senators to look at the losses in their district.

The Public Health Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life. The study, which was funded in part by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation, is available online at teenbirths.phi.org (beginning May 21, 2008).

eMaxHealth has an extensive coverage on Teen Birth Rate in California in its today's issue for further reading.

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