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Costs of teen pregnancy affect all Mississippians

 

 

 

Sarah Fowler

 

Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series on the implications of teen sex. 

 

 

 

Just as she does every day, Kimberly Jones sat on the front porch of her Southside home Friday, waiting for her oldest child to come home from school.  

 

Jones, who asked that her real name not be used, is a 24-year-old mother of two. She became pregnant with both of her sons when she was in high school, first as a freshman, then as a senior.  

 

She has been on government assistance since she was 15.  

 

Jones, who lives at home with her mother, said she cannot afford to raise her children without financial help.  

 

According to a study released by The Women's Fund, Jones is not alone.  

 

Released in 2010, the study estimates that teenage pregnancy costs Mississippi taxpayers approximately $155 million each year.  

 

Based out of Jackson, The Women's Fund focuses on educating teenagers, parents and educators on the dangers and risks of teenage pregnancy. 

 

Jamie Bardwell is the program director for the organization and conducted the study.  

 

She said not only was she shocked to learn just how much teenage pregnancy costs taxpayers, she was surprised at the greatest part of the cost. According to Bardwell, the major cost to taxpayers is not from supporting the teenage mothers and their children, but the lost revenue that the women would be earning if they were employed.  

 

"The main costs are due to lost tax revenue,'' Bardwell said. "That comes back to the whole idea to have an educated workforce." 

 

Bardwell claims that one in three school dropouts are teenage mothers. If a young woman does not get an education, Bardwell argues, the probability of her getting a job to support herself and her family are less likely.  

 

"The only way to get them (to work) is for them to graduate and go on to college. Teen mothers are less likely to do that and the children of teen mothers are less likely to do that." 

 

Jones said that while she was behind a year -- she graduated at 19 -- she has friends who dropped out of high school to raise their children.  

 

"From the seventh to the 12th grade, they are having sex and before they finish school they are pregnant or have a disease," Jones said. "Then they quit (school). They want to have kids." 

 

 

 

Crunching the numbers 

 

In 2009, there were 143 babies born to teenage mothers in Lowndes County. The Women's Fund study, " Economic Impact of Teen Births in Mississippi," claimed those 143 babies cost taxpayers $2,560, 905.  

 

In Oktibbeha County, there were 53 babies born to teenage mothers, costing taxpayers $751,455.  

 

In Noxubee County, the 35 babies born to teen moms cost $711,450.  

 

In Clay County, the 39 babies born to teen moms cost taxpayers $634,815. 

 

The study claims the costs to taxpayers include lost tax revenue based on teen mothers' and fathers' lower wages, lost tax revenue from lower wages of children of teen parents in adulthood, costs for foster care for children, public assistance costs such as emergency food assistance and medical assistance and costs for incarceration relative to the cost had the mother delayed pregnancy until she was 20 or 21.  

 

Mississippi has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the United States. Mississippi also has the highest gonorrhea rate in the nation.  

 

According to The Women's Fund, if every school district in the state taught Abstinence Plus, the rate of teenage pregnancy would drop dramatically.  

 

In the 2012-1013 school year, Mississippi school districts had a choice between teaching Abstinence Only or Abstinence Plus.  

 

Lowndes County, the City of Columbus and Oktibbeha County chose to teach Abstinence Plus. Clay County opted to teach Abstinence Only.  

 

Abstinence Plus is a six-week program taught in health class that educates students, from a medical point of view, on the dangers and risks of having unprotected sex.  

 

The program encourages teens to say "no" based on the information they learn from the program. The program does not encourage them to have protected sex and use a condom.  

 

Bardwell said only 71 out of 152 school districts chose to teach Abstinence Plus.  

 

 

 

"Baby, you look  

 

pregnant.'' 

 

For Jones, that program was not available when she was a student at Columbus High.  

 

She got pregnant with her first child at 15.  

 

She said she had no idea she was pregnant until her mother told her she was.  

 

"One day she just came up to me and said, 'Baby, you look like you're pregnant.'" Jones recalled. 

 

Jones went to the doctor and learned she was three months pregnant with her first child. She signed up for Medicaid soon after.  

 

Medicaid is a government supported program designed to assist those in financial need.  

 

To qualify for Medicaid, applicants must meet certain income requirements.  

 

Medicaid also covers the majority of the cost for doctors visits. For example, the co-pay for a doctor's visit is $3. Co-pays for generic and name-brand prescriptions are $3. Co-pay for a trip to the hospital via ambulance is also $3.  

 

However, children under the age of 18, pregnant women and people in nursing homes do not have to pay a co-pay.  

 

Many pregnant teens receive Medicaid benefits to pay for OB/GYN visits and the birth of their child.  

 

For a pregnant person to receive Medicaid benefits in Mississippi, they must meet the income requirements.  

 

In a one-person household, the monthly income cannot exceed $1,723. In a two-person household, the monthly income cannot exceed $2,333.  

 

The monthly income can not exceed $2,944 or $3,554 in a three- or four-person household, respectively.  

 

Once the baby is born, the child is eligible for Medicaid-provided health insurance in the Expanded Medicaid Program until the age of six, but only if the child's parents make below a certain income.  

 

In a one-person household, the monthly income can not exceed $1,239. In a two-person household, the monthly income cannot exceed $1,677.  

 

The monthly income can not exceed $2,116 or $2,555 in a three- or four-person household, respectively.  

 

When Jones had her first child in 2003, 60 percent of babies born in Mississippi were births financed by Medicaid, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation.  

 

Jones said she has been working since 2009 and can no longer collect any kind of Medicaid benefits for herself or her children since she is employed. While she is glad she is working, she said she wishes she could still rely on the program.  

 

"I need (Medicaid) now but they told me I make too much money," she said with obvious disappointment. 

 

Jones' children have two different fathers. She said she "socializes" with both men, but would consider herself in a relationship with the youngest boy's father. She said he pays what little child support he can.  

 

Jones said it costs her approximately $1,000 a month to feed and clothe her children. She works part-time at a local fast food restaurant, where she earns minimum wage. She said her modest paycheck is not enough to cover the cost of raising her two young sons, so she is grateful for her child support payment each month.  

 

"I would sure enough be struggling (without it)," she said.  

 

The oldest son's father does not pay child support. He is 27 years old and unemployed.  

 

"I've been trying to get him to pay but he won't get a job," Jones said.  

 

He was 18 when Jones got pregnant. He has never financially supported his child. 

 

 

 

Abuses of the programs 

 

Jones said while she does rely on government assistance, she feels teenage mothers with numerous children make it harder for others to get financial help.  

 

"We can't get nothing because of all the children they are having," she said. 

 

She added that she knows multiple women who get pregnant just to have more children.  

 

"This one girl, she has -- I don't mean to talk about her -- but this one woman is raising 11 grandchildren. There are 11 children in one house. The momma just likes to get pregnant." 

 

Jones said she doesn't know if teaching Abstinence Plus in school will make a difference, but she feels it would have helped her.  

 

"I just didn't know," she said. "We used a condom but it broke. I just didn't know." 

 

Bardwell is optimistic about Abstinence Plus, but is cautiously awaiting results.  

 

"I feel like it will make a difference, because for the first time, schools are required to teach education that is evidence-based and medically accurate," Bardwell said. "It remains to be seen if schools will devote enough time to this project and if the programs they implement will be of high quality." 

 

She hopes the program will not only educate teens but impact their way of life. 

 

"You're not just looking for a change in attitude or knowledge," she said. "You're looking for an actual change in behaviors." 

 

For Jones, Abstinence Plus came 10 years too late. She hopes other young girls like her will educate themselves about what having a child in your teens can do to your life.  

 

"I want to go to college but...." she said, stopping in mid-sentence. "I've applied for jobs but I haven't heard anything. Nobody called me.  

 

"It's just hard, you know? I don't want to work in a fast food restaurant all my life."

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.

 

 

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