Teen pregnancies absorb welfare dollars

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 1999

Children having children costs everyone.

Sunday, August 22, 1999

Children having children costs everyone. Statewide, at least 44 percent of all welfare dollars, totaling more than $12 million each month, are spent on families started with a teen birth.

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Reducing the number of teen pregnancies should be part of the welfare reform efforts under way. If it is done, the economy will grow stronger. Those are the points made by the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP).

"These numbers demonstrated the real cost of teen pregnancy," said Nancy Nelson, executive director of MOAPPP. "We tend to think mostly about the individual and social effects of early pregnancies, but we’ve got to remember this is an economic issue, too."

Each month, Minnesota spends roughly $27.4 million on the family welfare program known as MFIP (Minnesota Family Investment Program), formerly known as AFDC. Of that, $12.2 million is spent on families that began with a teen birth; making these families one of the largest demographic groups on welfare today.

According to the MOAPPP survey, Mower County had 109 teenaged mothers in residence last year. The county’s MFIP monthly expenditure for the young mothers was $57,087 or 39 percent of the county’s total welfare dollars.

Neighboring counties’ totals included: Dodge, 18 cases, $10,873, 37 percent of total welfare dollars; Fillmore, 22 cases, $12,542, 36 percent of total welfare dollars; Freeborn, 114 cases, $69,811, 48 percent of total welfare dollars; Olmsted, 280 cases, $181,109, 35 percent of total welfare dollars; and Steele, 57 cases, $34,376, 29 percent of total welfare dollars.

There are 44,448 Minnesota families on welfare and 18,540 were started by a teen mother.

Each day, an average of 22 Minnesota girls between 10 and 19 years old become pregnant. The number of Latino girls having their first child before age 19 increased 31 percent in Minnesota between 1991 and 1995.

According to MOAPPP, nearly 70 percent of young mothers drop out of high school.

Also, the organization estimates that every dollar spent on providing basic pregnancy prevention services saves taxpayers an average of $4.40 per capita in public costs associated with pregnancies.

Margene Gunderson, director of Mower County Public Health, said Mower County averages 15 teen pregnancies a year. She said the county’s average is less than the state’s, which is less than the nation’s.

"According to our latest information and that is from 1995, the national average is one in 10 female teens gets pregnant and the state of Minnesota’s is one in 19, while Mower County’s is one in 21. Those numbers are for female teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age," she said. "We are seeing fewer teen pregnancies in Mower County."

According to Gunderson, there are other ways to reduce welfare than by reducing or even eliminating aid to pregnant teens.

Ruth Schmidt, income maintenance supervisor for the Mower County Department of Human Services, said, most pregnant teen mothers choose to stay at-home with their parents. The number of minor caretakers of children is "few," according to Schmidt, who said both the county and the minor’s parents must consent to the teenager moving from home to live alone with her baby.

"It’s not just the money spent on pregnant teen mothers," Schmidt said, "we should let a teen be a teen. It’s better for them and for the children to have mature adults for their parents."

She also favors more pregnancy prevention and parenting education. "They have to know that it is not so easy to have a child and to try to balance school, a job and children. It doesn’t work."

Bruce Henricks, director of Mower County DHS, MOAPPP’s numbers may be "tainted." According to Henricks, the teen parent (or parents) may seek public assistance, because they cannot find jobs where they earn a livable wage.

"Sure, it alarms me to hear how expensive teen pregnancies can be to all of society, but the relative low-earning power of youth may be a factor also," Henricks said. "Even the combined earning power of two teen parents may not be enough to prevent them from needing and qualifying for some public assistance."

MOAPPP claims the state can "effectively reduce its welfare rolls" by "investing in effective teen pregnancy prevention and parenting support programs.

"The bad news is that like many states, Minnesota has deemed teen pregnancy and parenting issues too hot to handle<’ said Nelson. "The result is that teen pregnancy prevention and parenting support programs are sparsely funded."

For that reason, MOAPPP says the state is missing an excellent opportunity for significant and permanent welfare reform."

"It’s short-sighted policymaking," Nelson said. "Helping kids break the cycle of dependency now means helping ourselves to lower taxes in the future."