Teen pregnancy rates have hit historic lows and continue to drop, thanks to better sex education, increased availability of contraception—and even repeated showings of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. (But the U.S. rates still have a long way to go to meet the lower teen pregnancy rates of other industrialized countries.)
That progress seems to be in jeopardy, though, thanks to a surprising and sudden budget cut from the Department of Health and Human Services. As reported by The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, 80 teen pregnancy prevention programs nationwide, which had received five-year grants in 2015, just received letters that said their funding would be cut either in June 2018—two years early—or immediately. In total, the budget slash amounted to $213.6 million. Many of these programs served low-income and minority populations, who are more at risk of teen pregnancy. According to Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting's publication, there's more at stake with these cuts than just the loss of the programs themselves:
Health officials say cutting off money midway through multiyear research projects is highly unusual and wasteful because it means there can be no scientifically valid findings. The researchers will not have the funds to analyze data they have spent the past two years collecting or incorporate their findings into assistance for teens and their families.
“We are just reeling. We’re not sure how we’ll adapt,” said Jennifer Hettema, an associate research professor at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, which was finding ways to help doctors talk to Native American and Latino teens about avoiding pregnancy.
Studies show that despite the decline in teen pregnancy rates in the last few years, one in four American girls still becomes pregnant before age 20. And those who do face a hard future: Research by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that 30 percent of girls who drop out of high school do so because of pregnancy or parenthood, two-thirds of teen moms live in poverty, and one quarter end up on welfare. And it starts a vicious cycle—the children of teens generally score far lower than their counterparts with adult parents on school readiness measures, score lower on standardized tests, and are more likely to never graduate high school.
And those results don't just impact the teen moms and their families—the National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that teen pregnancy cost taxpayers $9.1 billion back in 2010. And you can bet that number will be on the rise once these cuts take hold.