Are we forgetting low-income teens?

I am very mindful each day of who comes into the Center for help. And one thing I know is that today’s mothers of three or four were yesterday’s teen parents. Their first child came unexpectedly and far earlier than the moms (or dads) were emotionally or economically ready. That is why I read teen pregnancy articles with such interest – to see if we are focusing on those who need the most attention.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently published an article to share how teenage pregnancies have been decreasing dramatically; the tone was one of great enthusiasm and positive change. The title stated that there are now historic lows for all age and ethnic groups. I searched for the word “poverty” in the article. It was not there, nor was “low-income.”

The state with the lowest percentage of teen births: New Hampshire. The state with the highest percentage of teen births: Mississippi. If you were to research the state with the lowest percentage of poverty, you would find that is New Hampshire. If you were to research the state with the highest, you would see it is Mississippi. Teen pregnancies are a huge part of the cycle of poverty, yet poverty does not make the discussion nearly enough. So we must discuss it – loudly and often. We must collaborate with groups and foundations and we must expand our Well Mother, Well Baby program. We will do so. We have great education leaders on our team right now, and we will utilize their professionalism and passion. For we spent a lot of time in the past year in low-income schools and neighborhoods and observed teen pregnancies remaining at an alarming rate. Some DC schools have dozens of pregnant and parenting teens – some have more than that. When the NCHS article noted that DC rates have gone down, there was no mention that many low-income families have simply been forced out of the city, replaced by folks with family incomes over $100,000.

If you were to look at census numbers from 2000 compared to 2010, the number of low-income residents of our nation’s capital has been decreasing significantly, while the number of upper income residents has been increasing. One thing I can assure you is that the folks in 2000 who were low-income are not today’s high-income residents. It is gentrification that has changed the statistics of our nation’s capital, not effective social change programs – not decreases in teen parents or adult education programs leading to job preparation and job obtainment.

The NCHS article I read made me think of two other articles I read in the past month. One spoke of the gap between where teen births were decreasing (middle and upper-income environments) and where teen births were still on the rise (low-income environments). The second article shared how girls who wait until their twenties to have their first child are far better off economically than those who find themselves as moms in their teens, especially their young teens, when they are still children.

We will bring more effective social change to this region. And we will speak louder – through our programs and collaborations – on behalf of the girls who are having babies far earlier than they are prepared to do so. We will seek to help our children to have a different vision for their lives.

National statistics may be improving, but the lives of our most vulnerable children are not.

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