Counting the cost

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, September 5, 2009

Forget the contributing factors, statistics or outreach programs.

When it comes to teenage pregnancy, there is just one question most taxpayers want answered: Who’s going to pay?

It is a fair question, because research shows it is the taxpayers themselves who are paying for everything from teenage mothers’ medical bills to food stamps to the babies’ medical bills.

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According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teen pregnancy nationwide cost the taxpayers more than $9.1 billion in 2004, which was the last year an analysis of cost to taxpayers had been done.

Their research also showed that from 1991 to 2004, it has cost taxpayers more than $161 billion to support teenage mothers and children of teenage parents.

These figures incorporated many of the negative consequences associated with teen pregnancy. For example, included in the analysis were public health care costs, increased child welfare costs, increased costs in incarceration. Additionally, the study also factored in lost revenue from the children of teen parents, because they typically end up with less education and lower-paying jobs, resulting in lower taxes being paid on their earnings.

In Virginia, the costs were broken down even further.

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teen pregnancy cost taxpayers in Virginia $177 million in 2004.

Virginians spent roughly $27 million for child welfare, $51 million in incarceration costs, $59 million in lost tax revenue and $25 million for public health care, which includes Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Looking at things on a more personal level gives no less reason to worry.

According to FamilyFirstAid, teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, with only one-third of mothers returning to school to receive a high school diploma. Teen mothers also are more likely to never obtain post-secondary education and to end up on welfare.

And those welfare costs fall straight on the backs of taxpayers.

According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a child born to a teen mother 19 or younger costs taxpayers an average of $1,430 a year, and a child born to a teen mother 17 or younger costs taxpayers an average of $4,080 of year.

While these numbers seem like a mass of gray clouds hanging over taxpayers’ heads, there is a silver lining of sorts.

The report also showed there has been a one-third decline in the teen birth rate from 1991 to 2004, and that decline has saved taxpayers more than $6.7 billion.

Specifically in Virginia, the teen birth rate declined 34 percent in that 13-year period, which saved taxpayers $135 million.