Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Low Welfare Payouts Raise Birthrate; ADVOCATES: They See a Trend in States That Don't Invest in Their Poor. CRITICS: More Funds Equal More Babies

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Low Welfare Payouts Raise Birthrate; ADVOCATES: They See a Trend in States That Don't Invest in Their Poor. CRITICS: More Funds Equal More Babies

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

ATLANTA - Lawmakers and others from the South sometimes tell Michael Petit that the reason the region's states don't spend more on education and social problems is the inability of its lower-income families to provide for a larger tax base.

Petit, president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund and author of Homeland Insecurity: American Children at Risk, has a different take on the situation.

"My response to that is, 'You're poor because you're not making those investments,' " he said.

And so it didn't necessarily surprise Petit or other advocates for the poor when numbers came out showing that states with the lowest welfare payments - many of them in the South and the West - had the highest teen pregnancy rates in 2003.

The comparison also provided a basis for Petit to take aim at some critics of boosting the amount provided for those on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

"So much for the conservative dogma that higher welfare payments encourage more out-of-wedlock births: Teens in the bottom 10 states [in terms of welfare payments] give birth at a rate twice as high as teens in the top 10 - even though welfare payments are less than half of those in the top 10," he wrote.

In fact, some of the differences are stunning. New Hampshire paid families of three a maximum of $625 a month in TANF benefits and saw 18.2 births for every 1,000 girls age 15-19. Georgia paid $280 and had a teen pregnancy rate of 53.5 per 1,000. In Texas, the numbers are $201 and 62.9 per 1,000 teens.

Nancy Cauthen, deputy director of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, said she's long dismissed the idea that welfare encourages mothers to have more children.

"I would just say that the idea that someone would have a baby to get an extra $20 a month is ludicrous," she said.

Advocates say it's not necessarily the higher welfare payments that cause the lower teen pregnancy rates. …

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