When you first take a look at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s new report on teen births by state, everything looks pretty rosy. The teen birth rate is down again,and Illinois has fewer teenage girls having babies than the national average.
But take a closer look, and you’ll see a disturbing picture. We’re in the 10 lowest states when you look at overall teen births. But when you zero in on Latino and black teens, we’re in the 10 highest.
What’s going on here?
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Here’s how the national statistics shake out. For every 1,000 teens who are 15 through 19, there are about 41.5 births. But things look a little differently when you shake out the numbers by race. Among white young women, the birth rate is 27.2. For young black women, it’s more than double that, at 64.2 births. But the highest is among Latinos, where the rate is 81.8 births for every 1,000 teens, a rate three times that of white teens.
Those are the national figures. Here’s what’s happening on a state level. Here, fewer teens give birth than the national average – 38.1 births for every 1,000 teens. White teens also do better than the average, with only 20.6 births per 1,000 teens. But black teens are way above the national average – 77.9 births per 1,000 teens, slightly higher than the 75.9 rate for Latino teens.
Look at the map for white teen births. We’re green, which signifies lower than average.
But look at the next map, birth rates for black teens, and we switch places – dark blue for the very highest.
A few years ago, we wrote about rising teen pregnancy among teens who are Lation. It’s still high, but the teen birth rate among Latinos seems to have declined, down from 80 per 1,000 a few years ago.
But what are the reasons behind the sky high birth rates? I called Shireen Schrock, director of community education at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, to find out.
There’s no one explanation for teen pregnancy, Schrock said, but a number of factors influence whether or not young women become mothers before they’re ready: including poverty, education levels, cultural messages, sex education and peer messages.
A lot of factors seem to go hand in hand with poverty. If you’re born to a teen mother, you’re likely to be poor, and also more likely to become a teen parent yourself. Kids growing up in poverty have less access to quality health care. And the same kids who are getting a lousy education in reading and math may be getting equally incomplete sex education. Because Illinois doesn’t mandate what kind of sex education kids are getting, it really varies from district to district.
“Even within a district, depending on the class or the teacher they have, they could be getting a very different amount of knowledge,” said Scrock. “We do not have good enough standards to be able to say that when a student graduates from high school, they know x, y, and z about sexual health.”
Other states, like New York, New Jersey and California do have mandated comprehensive sex education. They also have the lowest birth rates for minority teens.
President Barack Obama and Congress recently allocated $150 million for comprehensive sex education, and Gov. Pat Quinn applied for $8 million for Illinois. But will that money focus on the young people who need it the most?
Schrock says we’ll have to wait to find out.
“It will be very interesting to see how this stream is allocated, geographically and racially,” she said. “We still don’t know how the Department of Human Services will divy up the funds. We hope it will be driven by this report.”