OUT-OF-WEDLOCK BIRTHS: Decrease Nets State $20 Million from Feds
As expected, HHS announced yesterday that California led all states in "reducing the rate of births to unwed women without driving up abortions over the last few years." As a result, California will split a $100 million award with the other states that made the top five -- Michigan, Alabama, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The number of children born to unmarried women dropped 5.7% from an annual average of 32.48% of births during the 1994-1995 period to 30.42% during the 1996-1997 period (Healy, Los Angeles Times, 9/14). Under the law, the annual bonuses are to be awarded to as many as five states with the largest reduction in the proportion of out-of-wedlock births to total births. HHS compiles the statistics reported by states and compares the proportion for the most recent two-year period to that for the preceding two-year period. For the bonus, the five states also showed decreases in their abortion rates between the most recent year and 1995, where the abortion rate is measured as the number of abortions divided by the number of births. Olivia Golden, HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, said, "This bonus marks the first time the federal government has provided an incentive to states to reduce out-of-wedlock births. States are eager to compete for the bonus and we look forward to continued results of their efforts as they use the flexibility and resources provided by welfare reform" (HHS release, 9/13).
'Social Learning' Theory
State officials credited the drop to increased access to birth control and "changing social mores" that make single parenthood less acceptable. Douglas Besharov, a welfare-policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, said, "I wouldn't want to get carried away by these numbers, but I do think we're getting a little more conservative about these things, and it's showing up in some of the numbers. You have to be pretty oblivious to your surroundings if you grew up in a neighborhood where there are lots of single mothers and you don't realize this is a hard way to go. It's called social learning."
The money may be used for any purpose that falls under the federal definition of welfare (Los Angeles Times, 9/14). Advocates say they hope the states use the awards specifically to boost teen pregnancy programs. Tamara Kreinin of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy said, "I will quickly be sending them all a big packet saying, 'Please use this money to reinvest in teen pregnancy prevention'" (Meckler, AP/Detroit Free Press, 9/14).