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STATE POLITICS & POLICY | California Teen Birth Rate Increases First Time in 15 Years, Report Says

STATE POLITICS & POLICY | California Teen Birth Rate Increases First Time in 15 Years, Report Says
[May 22, 2008]

California's teen birth rate in 2006 increased for the first time in 15 years, costing state taxpayers $1.7 billion annually, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Oakland, Calif.-based Public Health Institute, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

According to the report, there were 37.8 births per 1,000 teen girls in the state in 2006, compared with 37.2 births per 1,000 teens in 2005 (Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/21). The total number of teen births in the state increased to 52,770 in 2006 from 50,433 in 2004 (Kisken, Ventura County Star, 5/21). The report examined teen births for 15 to 19 year olds, the standard age group reported to the state Department of Public Health and other government agencies, according to study author Norman Constantine, a clinical professor of public health at the University of California-Berkeley (Walker, Orange County Register, 5/20).

California's 2006 teen birth rate still is below the national average of 41.9 births per 1,000 teens and is significantly lower than the state's peak of 70.9 births per 1,000 teens in 1991. However, births to teenage parents are "placing a significant burden" on state taxpayers, the Chronicle reports. To calculate the annual costs to taxpayers, Constantine used a model that analyzed factors -- including loss of tax revenue based on the teenage parents' reduced income, costs for increased placement in foster care, and increased reliance on public assistance, such as welfare and the state's Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. The model also included loss of income for infants when they reach adulthood. The report found that lost income and private medical expenses resulting from infants born to teens cost their families more than $3,000 annually. In addition, each infant cost state taxpayers about $2,500, the report found.

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California "has led the nation in reducing its birth rate," but when the number of births started "creeping up, even while the rate was going down, we weren't paying enough attention," Constantine said, adding, "The costs are really starting to climb now. That's not money [the state] can afford to lose." Some public health officials said that part of the increase statewide is caused by complacency, but they added that the increase cannot be attributed to just one factor. They said other potential factors include higher poverty rates statewide, a growing teenage population and minimal funding increases for sex education (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/21). However, Bonnie Sorensen, chief deputy director of policy and programs at the state health department, said California's teen birth rate increase is a more of a "leveling off" and is not statistically significant (Hines, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 5/21).

According to Shanie Scott, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, state funding for programs specifically designed to prevent teen pregnancy was reduced by 37% last year and is expected to decrease an additional 10% under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) proposed budget. Scott said, "We all know that prevention is the way to go to make sure these programs stay functioning. I believe that the latest budget cuts that are already in will affect 30,400 teens, and parents who will lose services" (Goldeen, Stockton Record, 5/21). According to the Press-Enterprise, if lawmakers approve Schwarzenegger's budget plan, funding for three state health department pregnancy prevention programs would be reduced by about $1.5 million (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 5/20).

The report is available online.