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CDC Study Shows Racial Divide in Teen Pregnancy Rates

November 8, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Pregnancy among teen-age girls has been the subject of public concern for decades, and a new state-by-state report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights another factor; huge racial disparities in teen birth rates.

Minnesota ranks among the ten states with the lowest overall teen birth rate, but among the ten states with the highest teen birth rate for African American girls. Rates are also significantly above average for Minnesota's Hispanic or Latina girls.

Brigid Riley, the executive director of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP), says the results on how Minnesota stacks up against other states are pretty shocking.

"If you put a thousand Minnesota girls in an auditorium, we know that about 27 of them will have a baby by the time they get out of their teens. If you put a thousand African American girls in that auditorium, 81 of them will have had a baby as a teen."

According to the report, babies born to teenagers are at higher risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and death in infancy, compared with babies born to women in their twenties and older. The report also notes that, although teenage birth rates fell nationally and in 14 states from 2007 to 2008, the birth rate for the United States remains substantially higher than for other Western countries.

Riley says that less than one-third of teen moms ever earn a high school diploma, and fewer still graduate from college by age 30. She says teen dads also face their share of challenges.

"They're already typically under-employed if they're teen fathers, and then the financial stress of child support really exacerbates the issue for them. Over time they earn a lot less than older fathers."

She adds that children of teen mothers have higher high school drop-out rates, and ultimately they are not as gainfully employed.

Riley says teen pregnancy has serious implications for our future work force.

"These children are going to be taking care of us when we're older, and if they're not successful in school, and if they're not going on for any kind of higher education, I think we have got some real challenges ahead of us. Communities need to pay attention to this because it's a work force development issue as much as it is a health issue or a social issue."

Riley says sex education and instruction on condom and birth control use definitely play a part of the potential solution. But she adds it's just as important that parents get over their discomfort when talking to teens about sex, and invest time in really guiding kids on values and their future plans.

The CDC report is at www.cdc.gov. MOAPPP's Minnesota- specific data center is at www.moappp.org

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN