Robyn E. Blumner

The wages of teen pregnancy

I find so-called "values voters" to be completely inscrutable.

First their "values" seem to revolve entirely around their opposition to: abortion rights, promiscuity, gay marriage, sex-education and church-state separation. Values like compassion, tolerance, generosity and humanity do not apply.

But then, when these voters are confronted with politically conservative candidates who seem to defy the Christian Right's rigid prescription for moral behavior, they shrug. No biggie.

When I look at the ticket of McCain-Palin, I see a guy who was a playboy, who left his first wife after she stood by him, raising his children, until his release as a POW. I see a VP pick who gave birth a mere eight months after eloping, whose husband has had trouble with the concept of a designated driver, and whose pregnant 17-year-old daughter is unmarried.

But what really burns my begonias is not this explicit hypocrisy. It is that the Christian Right is positively jubilant over the fact that Sarah Palin's daughter intends to keep the baby and get married, yet conservatives have helped to ensure that few young people have that as a viable option.

The life prospects of a teenage couple with a child and only high school degrees have collapsed in this modern economy. Things that might have prevented this deterioration such as support for unionism, fair trade policies, a minimum wage that constitutes a living wage and universal health care, have all been anathema to the Republican Party.

Bristol Palin and future baby will do fine, of course, with grandma's stature and money. Others are not so lucky:

For the first 18 years of the child's life, fathers of children born to women between the ages of 18 and 19, will make $13,200 less than fathers of children born to women age 20-21, according to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

But the real kicker is how devastating it is to show up on the nation's employment doorstep without a college degree.

If Levi Johnston, Bristol's intended, decides to support his new charge rather than complete college, he can expect to lose over a million dollars in earnings over his working life. For Bristol, the choice of bypassing college will drop her lifetime income by 40 percent. And about 85 percent of teen mothers who marry between their baby's conception and birth will not return to school within six months.

Also, teen parents shouldn't count on having health insurance since only 58 percent of high school graduates enjoy that perk, while nearly 80 percent of people with a college degree have coverage.

The prospects for married teenage parents have probably never matched those of couples who married later and obtained higher educational levels. But there was a time in this country when their financial outlook didn't look so bleak.

Yes, freewheeling globalization has had something to do with the downturn. But that isn't the only culprit. Hotel maids in Las Vegas, for example, enjoy a middle-class standard of living because their union demands it.

You can't outsource making a bed.

The anti-unionism of the Republican Party combined with its unwillingness to use government to look out for working people has markedly undermined the prospects of low-skilled workers.

The minimum wage is a case in point. If it were boosted to a point where every full-time worker had a chance of affording food, shelter and health care, the opportunity costs of choosing young parenthood wouldn't be so devastating. But Republicans in Congress have fought fiercely against every increase.

So when the "values voters" applaud teen marriage and parenthood, they are embracing a life choice that their favored party has vanquished for anyone with hopes of a secure future.

I wonder how many pregnant teens have chosen to have an abortion because of this very calculation? Not an insubstantial number is my guess.

The wages of teen pregnancy 09/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4:38pm]

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