A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal noted that “Unintended pregnancies likely cost the federal and state governments more than $11 billion a year,” based on research published by the Brookings Institution.
A major reason for the cost to government, notes the author, is that “women who unintentionally get pregnant are more likely to be low-income” and thus “are more likely to be eligible for government-financed medical care.” The Brookings report also notes that the majority (57 percent) of these births are to women who are unmarried: one of the greatest predictors of child poverty in the United States today. The strong link between unwed childbearing and poverty creates little wonder that the majority of births to unmarried women are financed by Medicaid.
However, the costs don’t stop at birth. In fact, it’s only the beginning. As Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector asserts, “Once the taxpayer has paid for the childbirth, aid to the [low-income, single] mother and child will generally continue through a wide variety of programs for years to come.”
In fact, roughly 75 percent of all families on welfare are single-parent families. With the number of unwed births skyrocketing over the last five decades (more than 40 percent of births in the United States today are to single moms), the cost of federal welfare has mushroomed. Currently, Washington operates more than 70 welfare programs at a cost edging toward $1 trillion annually.
Yet poverty and government dependence aren’t the only problems connected to single-parent families. Children raised without fathers are at greater risk for a host of negative outcomes, such as poorer social and emotional behavior, delinquency, and lower academic outcomes.
However, the answer to preventing unwed births for these low-income women is not more birth control, as Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, proposes in The Wall Street Journal.
In fact, women from low-income neighborhoods report that a lack of access to birth control is not why they became pregnant. While some of these women say their pregnancies were indeed unintended, many report that they wanted to have a child or at least that their becoming pregnant was not completely unintentional.
However, while these women may be well versed in birth control, the message on the importance of marriage is often never heard. As Robert Rector notes:
“…young people in low-income communities are never told that having a child outside of marriage will have negative consequences. They are never told that marriage has beneficial effects. The schools, the welfare system, the health care system, public authorities, and the media all remain scrupulously silent on the subject.”
The growing rate of unwed childbearing is putting more families at risk for poverty, welfare dependence, and a host of other ill outcomes, leading to increased welfare spending and debt for the nation. Men and women in low-income communities must understand the critical importance of waiting to have children until marriage. Campaigns to promote marriage and warn of the risks associated with single parenting are an important step in strengthening marriages and communities. Furthermore, the United States must also take steps to eliminate marriage penalties prevalent in many welfare programs.
Without the secure bonds that marriage provides, communities will continue to struggle, and the cost of government welfare will continue to rise.