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he Children's Defense Fund (CDF)
exists to provide a strong and
effective voice for the children of
America who cannot vote, lobby, or
speak for themselves. We pay particular
attention to the needs of poOl; minority, and
handicapped children. Our goal is to educate
the nation about the needs of children and
encourage preventive investment in children
before they get sick, drop out of school, or get
intO trouble.
CDF is a unique organization. CDF focuses
on programs and policies that affect large
numbers of children, rather than on helping
fan1ilies on a case-by-case basis. Our staff
includes specialists in health, education, child
welfare, mental health, ch.ild development,
adolescent pregnancy prevention, and youth
employment. CDF gathers data and dissemi-
nates information on key issues affecting
children. We monitor the development and
implementation of federal and state policies.
We provide information, technical assistance,
and support to a network of state and local
child advocates. We pursue an annual
legislative agenda in the United States Congress
and litigate selected cases of major importance.
CDF educates thousands of citizens annually
about children's needs and responsible policy
options for meeting d10se needs.
CDF is a national organization wid1 roots in
communities across America. Although our
main office is in D.C., we reach
out to towns and cities across the country to
monitor the effects of changes in national and
by MaryLee Allen and Karen Pittman
state pOlicies and to help people and organiza-
tions who are concerned wid1 what happens
to children. CDF maintains state offices in
Mississippi and Ohio and state projects in
Minnesota, Texas, and Virginia. CDF has
developed cooperative projects with groups in
many states.
CDF is a private organization supported by
foundations, corporate grants, and individual
CDF's Adolescent
Pregnancy Prevention
n]anuary 1983, CDF began a major
program initiative' to prevent teen
pregnancy and to alleviate d1e range of
problems facing adolescent and female-
headed householcls.
CDF's first priority is to prevent a teen's first
pregnancy. Our second priority is to ensure
that teens who already have had one child do
not have a second child. The dllid priority is
to make sure that those babies who are born
to teen mothers get adequate prenatal care so
d1at prematurity, low bird1weight, and birth
defects are not added to their already stacked
Underlying our entire effort is the need to
come to grips wid1 d1e role and future of all
young people in our society, and d1eir need
for adequate skills and gainful employment.
We believe young people with hope and
pOSitive Life options are more likely to delay
early parenting.
DO? is the November 1986 publication
of d1e Children's Defense Fund's
Adolescent Pregnancy Preven-
tion Clearinghouse. For additional
copies of d1is report at $4 each, or for a
one-year subscription (six issues) at
$17.95, including postage, contact:
Publications, Ch.ilclren's Defense Fund,
122 C Str'eet, N.W., D.C.
2000 1, (202) 628,8787.
Clearinghouse Director:
Karen Pittman
Publications Coordinator:
Donna M. Jablonski
This report is the seventh in a series of
reports on adolescent pregnancy prevention
that CDF's Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention
Clearinghouse will produce. The reports are
part of the Clearinghouse's effort to keep those
working on the many components of the
problem aware of important issues and
developments in the field. Each report is, in
many ways, a call to action.
CDF wants to ensure each child a successful
adulthood. Adolescent pregnancy robs
millions of youths of secure futures . CDF,
mrough public education and media cam-
paigns, networking and coalition building,
policy analysis and development, and carefully
selected action progran1S, hopes to help make
a clifference.
We will need your help. We have the best
vantage point for learning what is going on at
the federal level, but we need you to tell us
what is going on in your states and communi-
ties. The reports we write will depend in large
part on the information we receive from those
of you in me field who are advocates,
legislators, program administr<ltors, and
deliverers of services.
'Gl<ll1ts from the following organizations have
made this new program effort possible:
MacArthur, Rockefeller, Edna McConnell
Clark, New-Land, Robert Sterling Clark, Ford,
Packard, Helena Rubinstein, Samuel Rubin,
van Ameringen, Eugene and Agnes Meyer,
Joyce, and the Andrew Mellon Foundations
and the Carnegie CorpOl<ltion of New York,
AT&T, Merrill Lynch,
tinghouse, Ruth Mott Fund, Stanley Roth
Trust, lhnity Church Grants Program, Ounce
of Prevention Fund, Philip Graham Fund, and
the Commonwealth Fund.
Children's Defense Fund
President: Marian Wright Edelman
Executive Director: Peggy Lan1pl
Progl<lll1 Director: James D. Weill
1986, Children's Defense Fund
Design by Robin Foster-Krask,
Optima Design, Inc.
Cover Design by Marilyn Kaufman
wo-thirds of American adults feel that teenage pregnancy is a
very serious problem, accorcling to a recent opinion poll
conducted by Lynch and Associates. Meclia coverage of the
issue has been extensive, and cliseussions and debates of the
causes and consequences of teenage pregnancy and parentllood
continue. The reasons put fortll are varied and complex, but, <Umost
invariably, discussions of the nation's teenage pregnancy problem turn
to cliscussions of teen parents and welfare.
This report examines the facts and misinformation a.<;sociated with
teenage pregnancy and welfare. Do most teen parents end up on
welfare? Does welfare influence teens' decisions about pregnancy, or
childbearing, or marriage? How long do teens stay on welfare? Are most
welfare teens tile product of wei fare fumilies? How much cOLtld we save
if we could reduce the number of teenagers having babies? Does our
current welfare system help poor teen parents move toward self-
suffiCiency? Can it?
Few of tllese questioris have definitive answers. As in the debate
about the causes of teenage pregnancy itself, cliscussions of the
relationship berween teenage pregnancy ,md welfare dependency are
cliscussions ofv<t1ues as well as facts and research finclings. In answering
the many questions that are asked about teerulge pregnancy and welfare
dependency, we have tried to make our own interpretations clear,
clistinguishing basic facts from interpretations of research anel from
comments anel opinions.
Cenmtl to an Lmderstanding of the questions about teen pregnancy
and welfare, and to the development of strategies to help teens avoid
early parenthood and help teen parents avoid long-term welfare
dependency is an understanding of who teen parents are. We know that
poverty often follows teenage parenthood because teen parents are
more likely to be single dlan are non-teen parents, and are more likely
to drop out of school and, consequently, have difficul ty finding
employment or earning above-poverty wages. We know, in other
words, that poverty and lack of education are often a consequence of
teenage parenthood.
But poverty and lack of education are also, research suggests, the
primary causes of teenage parenthood. In trying to identify the routes
onto welfare, it is critical dlat we examine the role that tile lack of
parental income and opportunities, and lack of academic and
employment-related skills and opportunities among teens, play in
determining which teens become parents and which teen parents enter
tile welfare system.
Teens from poor families, m,tle and fem<t1e, and teens with poor basic
reacling and math skills are at greater risk of C'Mly parenthood than are
teens with soli d skills or those from higher income families. These are
the teens who are least likely to complete successfull y tile transition out
of high school and into postsecondary uaining or employment. Poor
16- to 19-year-old young women with below average basic skills are
,tlmost six times as likely to be parents as are young women from non-
poor families who have average or above average basic skills. One in
five poor teens witll below average skills is a parent.
The young unmarried mothers receiving Aid to Families with
The term "welf,u-e" is most often used to refer to a single
program - Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).
Because AFDC recipients almost always are eligible for the
federal food st.1I11P and Meclicaid programs, estimates of
welfare costs sometimes include these as well . The federal
share of AFDC in 1985 cost S8.6 billion, or less than 1 percent
of the total federal goveITm1ent expenditures. Although federal
Medicaid expenditures in 1985 were $37.5 billion, only one-
quarter of this amount was for dependent children younger
than 21 or adults in AFDC families. Federal food stamp
expenditures were S11. 7 billion, but in 1984 fewer than half
of <til food stamp reCipient housell0lds also were receiving
In 1985, 3. 7 million poorfamilies, fewer than half of <til poor
fanlilies, received AFDC. Approxinlately 90 percent of these
f;mlilies were headed by single parents. About 67 percent, or
7.2 million, of the 10.8 million recipients in these families
were children.
Of AFDC families in 1983, 3.3 percent were headed by a
mother or other person 18 or younger. TIlis proportion had
declined from 3.8 percent in 1979. Most AFDC mothers, 61.5
percent, were 25 years of age of older. GoveITm1ent (lat.1 do
not tell us how many adclition<t1 teen parents younger than 18
or 19 are included as dependents in AFDC housel1olds headed
by their parents or other adult relatives.
Children in two-parent unemployed families are ineligible for
AFDC in 25 states, regardless of how desperately poor they are.
In st.1tes that do have programs for two-parent unemployed
families (c<tlled AFDC/UP), young two-parent families are often
ineligible because teen parents have not been in the work force
long enough to meet the special and restrictive AFDCIUP
eligibility test.
The average AFDC family includes two children. Almost three-
fourths (73.2 percent) of AFDC families have only one or two
InJuly 1986, even the combined value of monthly AFDC and
food stanlP benefits for a f,milly of three was less than the
federal poverty level in <til states, less than 75 percent of the
poverty level in 41 states, and less than half the poverty level in
seven states.
Chart I
Percentage of First-Born Babies Conceived Out of
Wedlock by Year of Baby's Birth and Mother's
Marital Status
D Single at first binh
'f' 500
I 500


I 500
Single at conception, IlMarried at conception
married at first binh
1950-54 1960-64 1970-74 1980-81
1970-74 1980-81
r 8.5%
SOurce: M. O'ConncU and C. Rogers, " Out or Wedlock Binhs, Pregnancies and
Their EITt."O on FamHy Formalion and Dissolutions", Family Planning PerspectivCS, 16 (1984).
Dependent Children (AFDC) and the young "absent" fathers are often
the most disadvantaged subsct of this already clisadvantaged group of
teen parents:
Two-thirds of all AFDC mothers between the ages of 17 and 21
have basic skills that rank in the bottom one-fIfth of all young
women in their age groups.
Young men, 18 to 22, who have fathered dli.ldren with whom
they do not live are more than twice as likely as young men
currently living with their children or young men who are not
parents to have failed to make the transition from school to work
as teens. Looking back four years, to when all of these young
men were teens and many not yet fathers, we see warning signs
- one in five WJS neither in school nor working.
Reducing teen pregnancy rates and welfare dependency among teen
parents will require a massive effort to fmd ways to give poor and
minority teens more of the skills, experiences, opportunities, and
support that middle-dass teens take for granted. Steps can be taken
Witllin the welfare system to assist families with teens who are not yet
parents to move their d1ildren toward self-suffidency and to assist teen
fanlilies in making this transition. But these measures alone will not
solve the problem. Ultimately, tlle solutions will involve most public
systems as well as many private ones as we work to help all youths
obtain the skills, experiences, information, supports, and opportunities
tl1at will enhance their chances of adult success.
we devote this entire report to discussing the many questions raised
about teenage pregnancy and welfare dependency in part because so
mud1 energy is misdirected on this topiC. By clarifying the real causes
and costs of welfare receipt among teen parents we can darify the
debate about the causes and costs of teenage pregnancy.
any of the questions ["'.used about teen pregnancy and
welfare focus on the impact eligibility for and receipt of
welfare have on a teen's decision regarding childbearing
and parenmood. Does me availability of welfare affect a
teen's decision to have a child, keep me d1ild, marry me omer tyMent,
live at home, or have more children?
Does AFDC Encourage Births To
Unmarried Teenagers?
any critics of me welfare system argue that me availability of
welfare benefits plays a major role in the decision of a teen to
have a c1li.ld and not to marry. Moreover, many caseworkers,
yOUtil workers, and teachers in schools for pregnant girls claim personal
knowledge of such teens. Almost every reporter who has tried has been
sllccessful in fmding one such teen. And millions of people heard
TinlOthyon the CBS Bill Moyers special "The Vmishing Black Family"
talk about me d1ildren he had famered but did not need to support
because me mamers of his children could get welfare.
Anecdotes may tell us truths about some peoples' lives, but not about
all, anel mey often are not a sound basis for policy. Equally inlportant,
anecdotes may give us a sense of me kinds of factors that enter into
people's decisions, but mey do not help us understand me systematic
importance of these factors. The availability of AFDC benefits and me
rules of the program may playa role in some teens' decisions about
how to resolve an unintended pregrtancy (should they have tile child?
should they keep the child? should they marry the fJther?), as may the
aVailability of fanilly supports and assistance. But there is no empirical
evidence that AFOC is related systematically to birth rates among
unmarried young women.
The argument that welfare contributes to teen births has two
permutations: first, that "generous" benefit levels encourage young
women to bear children because it is fmancially attractive to do so;
second, that the availability of any welfare benefits - without regard to
how generous they are - encourages out-of-wedlock births. (Most
critics do not c1ainl that welfare plays a sigrtificant role in encour'Jging
pregnancy. Rather, they say, it encourages a pregnant teen to bear the
child and leaves her free not to marry.)
The most careful empirical analyses of the effects of MOC "generos-
ity" or availability on fanilly structure have been performed by Mary Jo
Bane and David Ellwood at Harvard University. Using a large data
source (the Survey of Income and Education from the U.S. Census
Bureau) containing information on more than 80,000 American women
between the ages of 16 and 44, these researchers were able to look at
the effects of benefit levels (which vary tremendously from state to
state) on single parentllood, separation and divorce, births to unmarried
women, and living arrangements of single mothers.
Bane and Ellwood found no evidence to support the hypothesis tllat
high AFOC benefit levels encourage childbearing among young
unmarried women ages 16 to 23, white or non-white. They found tllat,
over time, increases in childbearing did not occur in states where AFOC
benefit levels increased. Neither were birth rates among ufUll."uried
women higher in states with higher benefit levels than in tllose with
low levels of benefits.
Bane and Ellwood's sophisticated analyses are consistent with
simpler observations of national and international rulta on welfare
benefits and teen births. Ouring the 1970s the real value of AFOC and
food stamps in the United States declined Significantly, but tllis was not
accompanied by a decline in teenage out-of-wedlock births. Between
1972 and 1984, for example, combined payments dropped 22 percent
in real terms, while the number of out-of-wedlock births to teens
increased 28 percent.
A comparison of varying state benefit levels with birth rates among
unmarried teens also gives no indication that higher benefit levels
encourage higher birth rates to unmarried teens. Only two of tile 11
states with tile highest welfare levels in 1983 (combined AFOC and food
stamp benefit levels exceeding 75 percent of tile federal poverty level)
r'JIlked among the 10 states having tile llighest rates of teen births out of
wedlock that year.
Most western European countries are far more generous in the
amount of income supports they provide poor young families than is
the United States, but teen pregnancy and birth rates are substantially
lower than U.S. rates. An A1,m Guttrnacher Institute international study
that found a large discrepancy between U.S. and Europe;m birth rates
did not look specifically at births to unwed teens, and tllere are many
caveats to take into account in international comparisOns. However, the
Guttrnacher data certainly east some doubt on c1ainls that welfare
support plays a role in influencing birth rates.
Bane and Ellwood also went beyond the simple state-ta-state
comparisons of benefit levels and behaviors to assess whether an
individual woman's potential eligibility for welfare benefits, reg<udless
of amount, affects decisions about childbearing. The series of sophisti-
cated statistical techniques they used bring us as close as we can get to
answering the question about whether the existence alone of welfare
affects family structure (since the ultimate test of randomly denying
benefits to some women and observing their behavior is not accept-
able). They compared within states the unmarried birth rates of women
who were quite likely to collect AFOC if they became single mothers
with tile rates for women who were unlikely to collect AFOe. The
assumption was that whatever the state benefit level, women who are
likely to collect AFOC if single parents would be more likely to be
influenced by the availability of those benefits than women who are
unlikely to collect. This method, however, also provided no evidence
that welfMe influences the childbearing decisions of young unmarried
In short, the best evidence shows that AFDC benefits have no impact on
childbearing decisions among young unmarried women. That is not to
say that many women who are young and unmarried when they have
their flfst child do not turn to AFOC for support at some time early in
their child-rearing years. The links between teen pregnancy and poverty
have been well established. The frequently cited fmding that 61 percent
of the mothers younger than 30 receiving AFOC began their childbear-
ing as teenagers (comjYMed to 35 percent of all mothers younger than
30) reflects tllat link. Women who are teenage mothers are dispropor-
tionately poor and as a result are more likely tllan other women to
become welfare recipients. They are more likely to have poor basic
academic skills tllat place them at greater risk of dropping out of school
and being unemployed. P"Menthood makes it even more difficult for
tllem to gain tile education, employment skills, and work experience
required to meet the needs of their children without turning to welfare
for assistance. But this is vety different from tile argument that welfare is
responsible for out-of-wedlock teenage childbearing.
Does AFDC Give Teen Parents an
Incentive To Have More Children?
ecisions about sexual activity, marriage, and childbearing,
particularly among poor young teens, are too complex to llinge
on the size or even the availability of public assistance. But once
anyone - poor or not poor, single or married - has begun a family,
fimmces would seem to weigh more heavily on decisions about
subsequent births. Therefore, some believe that decisiOns about
subsequent childbelring by teen parents on welfare are swayed by the
fact tllat their grants automatically increase with the birth of each
additiorl<1.l child.
Any belief that MOC mothers have more babies to get higher
welfare grants would have to be based on the [act that AFOC benefits
increase when a child is added to the family unit. Vet a look at tile size
of the increase alone suggests the peril of carrying tllis logic too far. In
most states, when an additional child is added to an AFOC family the
grant increase is so small that it cannot support tile additional c1lild,
much less inlprove the mother's standard of living. For example, when
a fanlily went from two to three members inJanuary 1986, the MOC
gr,Ult increased by $30 a month or less in Alabama, Kentucky, and
Mississippi and by $60 monthly or less in 22 other seltes. In only 14
states were the increases more than $80 a month, or 520 a week.
InstC<ld of bringing in new income, additional children drain AFOC
famil ies' a1re-Jdy inadequate resources.
Questions about AFOC recipients having aclditiomtJ children to
maintain their eligibility or to escape mandatory work requirements
(now usually in effect only for women with no children younger than
six) sinlilarly are not ba'>Cd on any systematic evidence of behavior.
In 1983, MOC tmlilies were smaller tllan poor families generally. For
example, only one-quarter of all AFOC families (26.8 percent) had three
or morc chilclren, eontr'JSted with more tl1an one-third of all poor
fanlilies witll c1li1dren (36.3 percent). The average number of c1li1dren
per AFOC family was two, the same as the national average for families
from ~ t J l income levels.
Of course, it can be argued that data on the subsequent births to all
AFOC mothers may not reflect tile decisions and behavior of young
AFOC mothers. 1Wo studies of low-income teen mothers suggest that
there are modest relationships between teen mothers' welfare receipt
and subsequent pregnandes and births. These are a longitudinal study
of poor black teen mothers in Baltimore, conducted by Frank Fursten-
berg of the University of Pennsylvania, and a study of AFDC-eligible
teen mothers in eight dties done by Denise Polit and Janet Kahn using
data from the Project Redirection study (implemented and evaluated by
the Manpower Development and Research Corp.).
Furstenberg found that 41 percent of the young women in his
longitudinal study who were on welfare in the year following the
delivery of their first child while they were teens went on, over the
course of the 17-year follow-up, to have three or more children,
compared to 34 percent of those mothers who were not on welfare in
the year following a teen birth. Polit and Kahn found that 64 percent of
the teen parents who had repeat pregnandes within two years had
been receiving their own AFDC grants, compared to 54 percent of the
teens who successfully avoided pregnancy during this time period.
Although these studies show that teen parents on AFDC are slightly
more likely to have subsequent births, the differences are not as large as
many might believe. And there is potential within the AFDC program
for further redudng the differences.
States are required by federal law to develop a family planning
program for AFDC parents and their dependent children that is
designed to prevent or reduce the inddence of birth out of wedlock
and otherwise strengthen family life. This provision generally has not
been enforced, but could result in increased access to family planning
services by AFDC motl1ers. The ability of teen motl1ers to delay
subsequent childbearing has been identifled as a key determinant of
economic stability and success, and family planning activities certainly
should be encouraged.
While the birth rate to teenage women in general declined by
almost one-quarter from 1970 to 1983 (from 68 births per 1,000
15- to 19-year-old women to 52 per 1,000), the birth rate to
unmarried teenage women increased by more than a third (from 22
births per 1,000 to 30 births per 1,000). These opposite trends
make the increase in births to single teens seen1 even more
dramatic: each year a growing proportion of the births to teens are
to single mothers. In 1970, 31 percent of teen births were to single
mothers; in 1983 it was up to 53 percent. In 1960, it was only 14
Before we make proposals to change the welfare system or any
other system in order to slow the increase in births to unmarried
teens, we need to understand the changes behind the trend. Birth
rates to unmarried teens are not up because more unmarried
teens are deciding to get pregnant. Almost nine out of 10 of the
pregnandes to unmarried teens are unintended. Birth rates to
unmarried teens are up because sexual activity rates among
unmarried teens increased rapidly during the 1960s and 1970s,
driving up the proportion of pregnandes to unmarried teens, and
because, once pregnant, fewer teens decided to marry before the
birth of the child.
Sexual activity rates among unmarried teenage girls increased
by about two-thirds from the early to the late 1970s (data on
teenage sexual activity and pregnandes are not available for
earlier years). By the end of the decade almost one-half (46
percent) of all never-married 15- to 19-year-old girls were
sexually active.
Were Most Teen Parents Raised In
AFDe Households by Mothers Who
Themselves Were Teen Parents?
he argun1ent that welfare creates dependency often is accompa-
nied by assertions that there is a growing "underclass" of single
mothers and non-supporting fathers who, having little work
experience and perhaps little desire to work, create a climate in which
early parenthood and receipt of welfare is acceptable if not encouraged
in the following generation.
A number of studies show that a disproportionate number of teen
parents come from poor families, from single-parent families, and from
fan1ilies in which the mother had her first child as a teenager.
Analyses of the National Longitudinal Survey of Young Adults
completed by Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market
Studies at Northeastern University show that teens from families
living below the poverty level are three and one-half times as
likely to be teenage mothers as are teens whose fan1ilies live
above poverty; and five times as likely to be teenage mothers as
are teens whose families live on incomes more than 300 percent
above the poverty line (roughly, these are families with incomes
over $30,000).
Data from the recent Project Redirection programs analyzed by
Polit and Kahn show that two-thirds of the AFDC-eligible
While pregnancy rates among sexually active teens declined
by about 6 percent between 1974 and 1980, increases in
sexual activity rates among unmarried teens led to increases
in the proportion of births to teens that were conceived
outside of marriage. Among white teens, this proportion rose
from 23 percent in the early 1950s to 57 percent in the early
1970s and to 64 percent at the beginning of the 1980s. Black
teens always have had more premarital pregnandes than
Unmarried Birth Rates: Black and White
The proportion of teen births that are to unmarried teens has been
increasing rapidly. In no community has this increase caused more
alarm than in the black community, where the vast majority of teen
births are now to single mothers. While we cannot overestimate the
significance of this trend for the black community, we need to
understand what is behind it.
Nine of 10 of the babies born to black teens are born to single
mothers, but the birth rate among unmarried young black
women has been going down.
In 1970,64,000 of the 172,000 babies born to black teens were
born to married teens. In 1983, only 16,000 of the 137,000 babies
born were born to married teens. The nun1ber of black teen births
declined by 20 percent. The nun1ber of births to married teens
declined by 75 percent. The proportion of all black teen births that
were to unmarried young women teapt from 63 percent in 1970 to
89 percent in 1983, but birth rates among unmarried teens during
this time period went down 11 percent.
The increase in the proportion of babies born to single mothers,
pregnant teens and teen mothers younger than 18 in the study (all
dropouts) came from AFDC households and had mothers who
had begun their childbearing as teens. Conversely; only one-
quarter of these teens had been raised by both parents and only
three of 10 had mothers who had completed high school.
A study of very young mothers (younger than 16) done by
Shelby Miller for the Child Welfare League of America shows that
one-quarter of the grandmothers in the families (the teen
mothers' mothers) gave birth before age 16 and that eight of 10
gave birth before age 20. Miller also finds that four of 10 of the
teen mothers had older sisters who had been pregnant as teens.
These and other studies dearly suggest that there is a strong
relationship between early parenthood and meager fumily resources.
But they do not disentangle the effects of fumily poverty; single-
parenthood, and poor education from the receipt of welfare to show
that there is any contribution of welfare receipt itself to teens' risk of
early parenthood. Determining this contribution would require a
longitudinal study that spanned many years, tracked the economic
status and welfare experience of families with children, and then
matched those data with similar analyses of information about the
children in those families who later raised their own children.
Often phrases like "three generations on welfare" are just a vivid way
of saying that poor grandchildren often have poor grandparents - a
fact that few would dispute and that reflects aspects of our sociery
much more ingrained and far-reaching than welfare. Early parenthood
and single-parenthood are both inextricably bound up with poverry.
Welfare receipt is tied to poverry and single-parenthood. It is important
white teens, making the shift here even more disturbing -
from 55 percent in the 1950s to 96 percent at the beginning
of this decade.
At the same time, marriages among teens who conceived out
of wedlock dropped off sharply. In the early 1950s, 47
percent of the babies conceived out of wedlock were born in
wedlock; an equal proportion of marriages occurred in the
thus, does not reflect an increase in birth rates among unmarried
black young women, but rather reflects a decrease in marriages.
Four out of 10 of the babies born to white teenage young
women are born to single mothers. Birth !,",ltes to unmarried
white teens are increasing rapidly, however.
The proportion of teen births to whites that are to unmarried
women is still small compared to the figure for blacks, but it is
rising rapidly - doubling between 1970 and 1980, and increasing
an additional 19 percent between 1980 and 1983. Among white
teens, however, this increase reflects an increase in births to
unmarried teens rather than a decrease in marriages. In 1970, there
were 10 births per every 1,000 ulUllarried young white women. In
1980, the rate had increased to 16 per 1,000 and in 1983 it was
18.5, almost double the 1970 rate (see Thble 1).
The proportion of births to adult women that are out of
wedlock also has been going up for blacks and whites, and
reflects the trends seen among adolescent women.
Birth rates for all white unmarried women have been going up
(from 14 births per 1,000 unmarried women ages 15 to 44 in 1970,
to underscore the fact that if teen parents are disproportionately single
and poor; they are likely to be welfare recipients. These probabilities
alone do not reflect the intergenerational transmission of a welfare
"mentality." They reflect the intergenerational repetition of poverry and
lack of opportunities.
One of the only data sets available that allows any analysis of
intergenerational welfare transmission as opposed to poverry transmis-
sion is the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) maintained by the
Survey Research Center at the U niversiry of Michigan. The PSID sample
looks at welfare receipt, defined to indude receipt of general assistance,
Supplemental Securiry Income, or food stamps, as well as AFDC.
Research by Greg Duncan and others at the Universiry of Michigan,
using 14 years of these data, indicate that fewer than a quarter of black
and white women growing up in heavily welfare dependent homes
(homes in which at least a quarter of the income is welfare receipts) are
themselves heavily dependent on welfare in their own households.
These data combined with what we know from other studies show
that it is the socioeconomic attributes of poverty; poor education, and
early parenthood that tend to be repeated in statistically significant ways
from one generation to another, rather than patterns of welfare receipt.
Does AFDe Encourage Teen Parents To
Establish Their Own Households?
Ithougl1 the availabiliry of welfare and the level of welfare
benefits in a state do not appear to have an impact on the
decision of young unmarried women to have children, higher
early 1970s. But by the beginning of this decade, the
percentage had dropped to 32 percent. Again, black teens
historically have been less likely to marry because of a
pregnancy than white teens, but it is important to note that
the data for 1980-1981 mark the first time on record that the
majority of white teens who conceived outside of marriage
and chose to carry the child delivered outside of marriage.
to 19 per 1,000 in 1983). More unmarried white adult women are
having babies. Birth rates for all black unmarried women have been
going down (from 96 per 1,000 in 1970 to 78 per 1,000 in 1983).
Not only are fewer young black women marrying, fewer married
black women are having d1ildren.
Tablt: 1
Birth Rates to Teenage Women, 15 to 19, by Race
and Marital Status, 1970 to 1983 (per 1,000)
1970 1980 1983
Birth Rates
TOTAL 68.3 53.0 51.7
Black 147.7 100.0 95.5
White 57.4 44.7 43.6
Out-of-Wedlock Birth Rates
TOTAL 22.4 27.6 29.7
Black 96.9 89.2 86.4
White 10.9 16.2 18.5
Source: u.s. Dept. of Health and Iluman Services, National C..enter ror HC'dhh Statistics, " Ad
vance Repon of Final Na!ali!y S(a!iSlics, 1983". Sep!ember 1985.
In view of the concerns that have been expressed about AFDC
giving teen parent" an incentive to live independently, it is troubling
that recent changes in the federal laws for the AFDC program,
proposed by President Reagan and adopted by Congress, have put
additional pressures on young parents to live apart from their own
parents - regardless of whether their families are on AFDC. A
1984 change in the way a minor parent's AFDC eligibility is
determined requires that a portion of his or her own parent's
income (if that grand(Yarent is not receiving AFDC) must be
counted as available to the minor parent and the granddtiJd when
they are living in the parent's home, regardless of whether the
parent's income is actually available to and being used to help the
minor parent and child. Prior to 1984, the parent's income had to
be counted as available only to the minor dtiJd but not the
grandchild, unless the grandparent actually was contributing to the
grmdchild's support. The new policy may cause much hardship in
low-income families where gr'mdparents do not have sufficient
income in realistic terms to share, but are assumed to share under
ut1re'.ilistic AFDC income ruJes. As a result of the provision, there is
evidence tllat some teen parents who had been living at home have
lost AFDC and medical care for themselves and for their babies and
in some GISes have been forced to move out on their own. Once
benefit levels do appear to increase the likelihood that a young mother
will establish her own independent household. Harvard researchers
Ellwood and Bane found in their analysis of data from the 1976 Survey
of Income and Education that the percentage of young mothers living
independently increases somewhat as the AFDC maximum benefit in a
slate increases. Bane and Ellwood estimate, for example, that a $100
montilly increase in the AFDC maximum benefit could increase tile
percentage of young mothers living independently by 50 to 100
percent. On the other hand, the researchers also estimate that fewer
than half of all single mothers younger tlun 24 live independently, and
that as many as three-fourths of all new, never-married motllers spend
their fIrst year of motherhood in tlleir parents' homes.
Precise national data on the living arrangements of teen parents on
AFDC are limited. \XoC do know that in 1979 there were approximately
230,700 mothers younger than 20 heading AFDC f,unilies (the large
majority of them were 18 or 19). But we do not know how many
additional teen parent" are included as dependents in the AFDC families
headed by their parents and tllerefore not counted as heads of AFDC
families themselves.
Some states have taken a more careful look at their caseloads,
however, and their findings suggest that teen-headed households,
especially households headed by parents younger than 18, are not the
During a given month in Wisconsin (a state with relatively high
benefits) in 1985,6 percent of tile AFDC cascload in the state
consisted of households headed by a teen parent, but more than
90 percent Oftllese were 18 or 19. There were only 500 heads of
AFDC households younger tllan 18, about .5 percent of all AFDC
families. There were also about the same number of minor
parents living in AFDC families where tlley were not the
household heads.
In Minnesota an estimated 2,597 teen parents were heading
AFDC hOLlscholds in 1984, but only 326 of them were younger
tllan 18 (.7 percent of tile total AFDC cases). Information on the
number of additional teen parents included in their own parents'
the teen parent is on her own, the grandparent's income is cOlmted
as available to the minor parent and his or her dtiJdren only when
the grmdparents actually are providing assistance.
Another 1984 change in the AFDC Progranl has placed increased
pressure on a young teen in an AFDC fanilly to move out when she
has a baby. Because under the change the teen is not eligible for a
separate grmt for herself and her baby, her own fanilly's already
inadequate AFDC grant must be stretched further to meet her
infant's needs, as well. The additional $30 to $60 a month typically
added to the f.milly's grant is barely enough to cover diapers for the
baby, not to mention the other basic needs. There is no doubt that
the numerous substantial pressures on a poor household are
increased by the presence of an additional infant.
Certainly, as we attempt to identify stratL"'gies that will provide
supports to teens who are parents, it makes no sense to institute
welfare policies that pressure teens to forego the supports and
opportunities that m.1Y be available to them if they choose to live at
home. Recent AFDC poliCies encourage the break-up of extended
families and deprive teen parents of tlleir own parents' moral
support, help with c11ild care, and other assistance they may need
to stay in school, get a Gener'.ll Equivalency Diploma (GED), or
work part time.
MDC households was not available.
In Kansas, 40 1, or 2.6 percent, of the single-parent Aid to
Dependent Children cases in 1985 were headed by teenage
motllers 19 and younger. AlthOugil tile state's computer system
cannot identify precisely otller teenage mothers who are in
families headed by their own mothers or other relatives, the state
estimated that there may be as many as 3,800 living as part of
tl1eir own parents' households. There were also 215 married
teenage mothers in tile state's AFDC/Unemployed Parent
Progr'dlTI .
The number of teen parents, particularly minors, receiving AFDC
and living independently therefore seems not to be huge. It appears
that most teen p a r e n t ~ take advantage of the emotional and practical
day-to-day supports (notably child care) mat families are willing to
Tecn parents may well benefit greatly from living at home inlroedi-
ately after tile birtl), but we need to think wough very carefully the
wisdom of requiring teen parents, even minor teen parents, to live at
home. Some who express concern that AFDC gives teen parents an
incentive to head their own households before they are ready propose
that MDC simply be denied to teen parents who have left their parents'
homes. Such a solution ignores many of the realities facing teen parents.
In some cases moving away from home may allow a young woman
to escape from a bad family environment, one in which her well-being
,md that of her baby may be endangered. Exceptions obviously could
be built into any rule when such circumstances present tllemselves.
Ilowever, it is not easy to establish a procedure for making a determina-
tion that tile home situation is contrary to the welfare of the minor
parent and her child. A requirement that actual abuse has occurred, for
example, would ignore conditions of Significant f.m1ily stress that
negatively affects all family members. There may be circumstances in
which tile parent forces the teenager to leave the house. In such cases
care must be taken to ensure that teen parents who seek out other
relatives or special programs for help are not penalized for living apart
from their (ydfents.
It is also important to consider the impact of a denial of AFDC to a
teen parent on that parent's child. The baby, who has absolutely no
control over the circumstances of his or her life, should not be cut off
from essential services because of the actions of his or her parent. It is
important, for example, that a pregnant teen not be denied Medicaid
and access to prenatal health care. Similarly, after the birth, the child
continues to need Medicaid and AFDC to ensure that his or her basic
needs are not neglected. Cutting the fumily off from all supports may
force some teens and their babies back into the grandparents' home
(some appropriately and others inappropriately), but it will force others
into the streets and shelters for the homeless.
Denying AFDC to a teen parent also leads to denial of services that
can help make the teen self-sufficient. A poor teen parent, if no longer
eligible for AFDC, also loses all access to Medicaid in 14 states, as well as
access to an array of services available to her while receiving AFDC.
These include fumily planning services (which states are mandated to
provide AFDC recipients) and requirements to seek child support on
behalf of her child from the absent father. As an AFDC recipient she also
may be eligible to participate in various job training and employment
programs under the Work Incentive Program and the Job Training
Partnership Act - routes to self-sufficiency that may be closed to her if
she is denied AFDC.
If It's Not Welfare, What Is the
Cause of More Families Headed
By Single Teens?
he research reviewed suggests that dle availability of AFDC has
contributed to the number of separate female-headed house-
holds through its effects on young mothers' decisions about
living arrangements, but that it has not contributed significandy to the
increase in births to unmarried young womcn. If welfare is not the
driving force behind this trend, then what is?
Data on adolescent sexual activity, pregnancies, and births show two
distinct trends - increases in pregnancies to unmarried teens (primarily
due to increases in sexual activiry), and decreases in marriage among
unmarried teens who are pregnant (Chart 1). These are general trends
among all teens, however, and the concern in this instancc is in trends
amongjXX)r teens, those most likely to use AFDC if pregnant.
Data, unfortunately, are not collected by income. They are collected
by race. Thus, the picture of teen parents that is usually painted is a
picture of black and white. (Similarly, dle picture often painted of
welfare families is a picture that depicts race as often as it does poverty)
While the majoriry of teen parents are white, the rate of teen
parenthood - especially among unmarried teens - is disproportion-
ately high within minoriry populations. Minoriry teens (blacks and
Hispanics) account for 27 percent of the adolescent population, but 40
percent of adolescent births and 57 percent of the births to unmarried
teens. Minoriry teens are 51 percent of all poor teens, however,
suggesting a link between poverty and early parenthood.
Limited "Life Options"
Current thinking on lhc causes of high rates of pregnancy and parent-
hood among poor and minoriry teens centers around dle differences in
"life options" between whitc and minoriry teens and bctween non-
poor and poor teens in America. The dleory is that limited opportuni-
ties, limited skills, and litde belief dlat the future can be better man thc
present can place any teen at heightened risk of early parendl00d.
Minoriry teens, being more likely to be poor and more likely to have
poor skills, have the most limited life options and are dlerefore, on
average, at greater risk of early parenthood man are white teens.
Chart 2
Parenthood by Basic Skills
Levels, 16-19 Year Old Women, 1981
_ BelOW aver-Age skills
Chart 3
Average or better skills
Parenthood by Poverty and Basic Skills
Levels, 16-19 Year Old 1981
Below aver-Age skills, family
incomes below poverty
Average or better skills, family
incomes above poverty
Source: UnpubLish<..-'d anaJyscs of the National longitudjnaJ Survey. counesy of Andrew Sum,
Nonheastern University
Recent analyses of data from me National Longitudinal Survey of
Young AmericU1s give strong support to mis theory :U1d suggest mat
poverry and lack of skills, not race, are me key factors that put teens at
risk of early parendlood. (These c!;Jet, made available to CDF by
Andrew Sum at Normeastcrn University's Centcr for Labor Market
Stuclies, were presented in more detail in Preuenting Adolescent
Pregnancy: What Schools Can Do, dle September 1986 issue of CD F's
Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Clearinghouse series.)
Young women wim poor basic skills - white, black, or Hispanic
- are more man dlree times as likely to be parents as are dlOse
with average or better basic skills.
Black, white, and I Iispanic teenage women wim below average
basic skills, whose families have below poverty incomes, face
equal chances of becoming parents during their teen years. But
mese young women are almost six times as likely to be parents as
teens wim good basic skills whose familics have above poverry
Male Unemployment and Delayed Marriage
Differences in family poverty ,m I basic skills appcar to account for
rJcial differences in rates of births to teens. But what about racial
differences in births to unmarried teens? Black teens are two-and-a-half
times as likely as white teens to become parents, but they are five times
,LS likely as white teens to become unmarried parents. Do poverty and
basic skills differences account for this sizable gap too?
Yes, in a significant way. A young woman with limited life options is
at heightened risk of having a child during her teen years. A pregnant
woman, it would seem, is at heightened risk of single parenthood if her
partner has limited life options. Rese"Jl'ch repeatedly has established a
link between male unemployment and/or low economic status and
marital instability. Research also indicates a connection between
joblessness and marriage delay. Frank Furstenberg's longitudinal study
of black teens pregnant before marriage found that the teens were more
likely to marry if their boyfriends were employed or employed fu U-
time. Andrew Cherlin, of the University of North Carolina, has shown
that marriage postponement has increased most among black women
with less than a high school education - whose partners, presumably,
have the most limited economic prospects. Analyses of the National
LongituclinaJ SUlvey by Robert Lerman of the Center for Human
Resources at Brandeis University clearly show that absent young fJthers
(fathers not living widl dleir children), black, white, or Hispanic, are
more likely dlan young males widlout children ,md young fathers living
with their cl1ildren to have a history of unemployment.
Twenty-c)l1e percent of absent fJdlers ages 18 to 22 in 1983 were
neidler in school nor employed in 1979, more dlan twice dle percent-
ages found for young men who weren't fathers or for young fathers
living widl dleir children. While absent fadlers were the most likely of
dle young men to have been neither in school nor employed among
bodl whites and blacks, the percentages for black males were signifi-
candy higher. Black males with no children, in fact, were only slighdy
less likely to be out of school or out of work trum white absent fathers
(16.5 percent versus 18.7 percent). Black absent fadlers were a third
more likely to be in d1is categOlY
These clifferences reflect overall clifferences in the employment rates
of white and black young men, differences dut have been growing over
the past 20 years as the employment situation for young black males
has deteriorated. Even data comparing 1970 to 1980 show a sharp
decline. Odler d1ings being equal, a young woman will be more
inclined to marry if her prospective p"Jltner is employed. Labor
Department statisties show dlat the number of employed young males
per 100 young females has declined sharply among blacks while staying
basically stable among whites (see Table 2). In 1970, anlong 18- and 19-
year-olds, dlere were 55 employed white males per 100 white females.
The comparable figure for blacks was 43. By 1980 the white figure had
risen to 62 per 100; the black ratio Iud dropped to 32 per 100. SimiJar
trends are seen among 16- and 17-yC' Jr-olds and 20- to 24-year-olds.
Why do young black males fare so poorly in today's job m"Jl'ket? Are
young black fJdlers particularly at risk of unemployment? We need to
return to the work of Andrew Sum to answer these questions. Sum's
analysis shows that more than three of four young black males are
either high Sclloo1 dropouts or have poor basic skills, or both, com-
pared with four of 10 young white males. When these finelings are
combined with his finelings dlat poor basic skills place young men at
risk of e"Jl'ly parenthood to the same extent that they do young women
(18- and 19-year-old males with poor basic skills "Jl'e three times as likely
to be parents as those widl average basic skills), it is clC'Jr that we are
lOOking at a group of teens who will need targeted, long-term assistance
to achieve self-sufficiency.
William J. Wilson, of the UniverSity of Chicago, has devised a way to
demonstrate dle inlpact of this shrinking "marriage pool" on fan1iJy
fOJ111ation. Combining joblessness figures widl figures for incarceration
and premature deaths, he shows that black women, especially young
Table 2
Employed Males per 100 Females
by Age Groups and Race
Year 16-17 16-17 18-19 18-19 20-24 20-24
White Black White Black White BLack
1970 42.1 24.3* 54.9 42.8* 62.4 58.2*
1975 42.6 16.9 57.4 32.0 70.2 48.5
1980 45. 1 18.6 61.9 32.2 74.7 49.7
Nonwhite, r.uher than hblck.
Source: U,S. l)ert. of I.ahor. BurC<llI of I.."hor Slatblics. I/,wdIX)Ok of l.alXJY StatistIC ... , June
1985. Calculations hy CDI'.
Table 3
Change in the Male Marriageable Pool Index and
Indicators of Family Status by Race and Region,
Proportion of Proportion of
Families Headed Women Heading
MMPI by Women Families
Black -11.2 +24.4 + 12.0
White - 2.2 + 6.2 + 3.0
North Central
Black - 12.5 +26.3 + 12. L
White 3.6 + 5.8 + 3.3
Black 6.1 + 15.6 + 9.1
White + 2.4 + 3.9 + 2.4
BLack 2.7 + 18.0 + 8.7
White 0.9 + 9.4 + 3.2
Somce: Nace (, Policy. Working Paper 117, Rohen ApOntc..', Kathryn M. Neckcrm:u'l, :II1U
WHli:.lln )uliw. Wilson "Race, F:llnily Structure and Sod'll Policy." The N.nion::11 Conference on
Social W;c;hington, D.C.
black women, are faced with a shrinking pool of marriageable (Le.,
employed) men. Looking at dle changes in the "Male Marriageable Pool
Index" (the number of employed men per 100 women) and changes in
the proportion of women who are heaeling fat11ilies in 1960 and 1980,
Wilson and his coUeagues found strong and consistent relationships. In
every region of the counu-y, black women faced a much more rapidly
shrinking pool of m"JlTiageable men dlan did white women. Corres-
poneling increases in dle proportion of women heaeling furnilies were
found in each region (see 'table 3).
These data have enormous policy implications. For all women, but
especialJy for young women with children, marriage always has been
and remains one of the key ways to escape poverty and avoid welfare
dependency. These data suggest that black young women have fewer
and fewer opportunities to avail themselves of this option. Fewer black
women m"Jl'ry, those who m"Jl'ry do so later, "Jlld dlose who separate or
clivorce remain single for longer periods of time before remarrying.
If we are concerned about the growth in out-of-wedlock births
(whedler among teens or adults), the increase in numbers of female-
headed fJnlilieS, and the implied growth in weLfure costs and weLfure
dependency, we have to be concerned about employment for both
males and females. Job u'aining and job opportunities for young
modlers on weLfure, if properly done, will help some of them achieve
economic self-sufficiency.
But, contrary to popular belief, marriage, not employment, is the
most common route off welflre, especially for young mothers who,
even working full time, are likely to be in low-wage jobs. Parallel job
training for young fathers would bolster young mothers' chances of
economic self-sufficiency, both by encouraging marriage and increasing
child support. And increased attention to the education, work exp0-
sure, job training, and job placement of poor and minority teens who
are not parents will, in the long term, be the best contribution we can
make toward alleviating the problem of welfare dependency.
hile there may be disagreement over the role welfdfe
plays in teens' childbearing decisions, there is little debate
over the fact that, once parents, teens are heavy users of
the welfare systcm. But what constitutes heavy use? How
many teen parents receive welflre benefi ts? For how long? At what
How Many Teen Mothers Receive
Welfare Benefits?
OO often, we think ofwelfdfe receipts as a given for single teen
mothers. We envision an unvarying chain of events tllat takes tlle
pregnant teen out of school, out of the mainstreanl, and into the
welfare office. The first question to answer, then, is how many teen
mothers receive welfare benefi ts?
Amazingly, there is no precise answer to tl1is question. Because so
many teen mothers li ve with their parents or other relatives (Bane and
Ellwood cstimate that 75 percent of never-married teen motllers spend
their first year of motherhood with tlleir parents) and are not, therefore,
heads of households, we do not have an accurate count on the number
of teen mothers receiving welfare. That 61 percent of AFOC recipients
younger Uk1l1 30 began their childrearing as teens alerts us to tile greater
needs and deficits of this particular population, but it does not give us a
sense of whether these women represent a majority or a minority of all
women who had children in their teen years. 0 0 almost all teen
mothers, or relatively few, receive public assistance during their teen
years? To get a sense of the frequency of welfare receipt among teen
motllers we have to go to several research studies, although none looks
at quite the population we are interested in (one looks only at low-
income black teen parents, one at 18- to 24-year-old unmarried women
witll children, and one at all teen parents, married and unmarried):
The 1976 five-year follow-up study of 400 Baltimore teen
mothers (low-income black teens who were younger tllan 18 at
the time of their first pregnancy) by Frank Furstenberg found
two-fifths on welflre. Almost two-thirds had been on welflre at
some point during the fi ve years since the birth of their first child,
suggesting mat 36 percent of the women who had used welfare
were no longer recipients. Furstenberg noted mat most of the
young women were not, at that time, long-term recipients, with
only one-tl1ird having been on welflre for more than 30 montl1s
and half having been in the system less than a year.
Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Young Adults,
analyzed by Andrew Sum, show that in 1981, 43 percent of all
18- to 24-year-old unmarried women with children received
AFOC (not all of these women had been teenage mothers). The
percentages of black unmarried mothers receiving AFOC were
slightly higher than tll0se of whites - 45 percent versus 41
Analysis of 1976 Census data by the Urban Institute of women
age 30 or younger with children found that 34 percent of teen
motllers (younger than 20) were living in AFOC households
either as household heads or in subfamilies. In contrast, 16
percent of the 20- to 24-year-old women who had their first child
in their twenties were in AFOC households. These figures are
percentages of all young mothers, not just of single young
mothers, even though most AFOC recipients are unmarried
women. In 1976, 41 percent of the births to teens were out of
wedlock, suggesting that the percentage of single teen mothers
living in AFOC households was considerably higher.
These studies do not leave us with a precise estimate of the likeWlood
of welfdfe dependency among teen parents, but they do suggest that
dependcncy, while frequent, is not universal. The substantial propor-
tion of single teen parents who seem to enter the welflre system,
howevel; leads us to ask, how many leave?
How Long Do Teen Parents
Stay on AFDe?
oone questions mat some AFOC recipients depend on the
program for a long time. There is debate, however, about who
they are and what proportion of the welfare caseload they
rcpresent. Two recent studies, one by David Ell wood and one by
Cl"mrles Murray of the Manl1attan Insti tute for Policy Research, address
tllese questions. Although these researchers have very different
interpretations of me data, both identify young never-married women
as tile group at greatest risk of long-term reliance on welfare.
Charles Murray, in a September 1986 report prepared for the
Working Seminar on tile Family and American Welflre Policy, looked at
AFOC entrants by age. He argued that women younger than 25,
especially young never-married women, who enter tlle system witll the
birth of a child, use tile welfare system very differently tllan do older
women who enter because of eli vorce or a spouse's death, and tllat by
lumping these two groups of recipients together when =mining
welfare use, the problem of long-term dependency is understated.
Murray notes:
Looking at welfare receipt over a 10-year period, 34 percent of
tile young women who entered the AFOC program between
1968 and 1973 remained on AFOC for the full 10 years; 70
percent were on AFOC for five or more years over a 10-year
peri od. Only 24 percent of these young women left AFOC within
two years, compared to 44 percent of 25- to 29-year-old women.
Two-tl1irds of the young women (under 25) who entered the
AFOC program between 1968 and 1973 had never been married,
compared to 15 percent of me 25- to 39-ye--df-old entrants.
Murray estimates that tile proportion of teenage entrants who
were never married was between 70 and 83 percent.
Ell wood recently re-analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income
Oynamics (PSID), taking into account the fact that many recipients have
multiple welfare spells (previous studies measured length of spells on
AFOC, not total years witl1in a given time period dmt might have
included numerous spells). He found that long-term welflre use for all
AFOC recipients is about twice as conunon as previously estimated -
half of all those who ever use AFDC use it for four years or more; one-
quarter use it for at least 10 years. Ellwood, like Murray, identifies young
never-married women as the group at greatest risk of long-term
More than 40 percent of the never-married women younger than
25 who enter the program when their child is younger than three
spend 10 years or more years on AFDC. These young women
account for almost one-quarter (22 percent) of new entrants and
almost one-third (32 percent) of the total caseload.
In the absence of targeted efforts to improve the skills, job opportuni-
ties, and earning potential of young parents, it is not surprising to fmd
that this group is the most dependent on AFDC. Ellwood found that
number of children, education, marital status, and work experience had
a significant impact on total time on welfare. Never-l1k1fried women,
high Scll001 dropouts, and those who did not work in the two years
prior to first receiving welfare were especially Likely to stay on AFDC
longer. Although the age of the mother or the age of the youngest child
did not, in and of themselves, appear to increase dependence, age
turned out to be one of dle strongest predictors of long-term depen-
dence bee-.llIse of its close connection to the other factors. Young
parents with young clliIdren on AFDC are much more likely to enter
dle system with many if not all of the characteristics that predict long-
term dependency than are older women. They are more likely to be
never-married high school dropouts with no prior work experience
who have Iitde alternative but to turn to AFDC for assistance when their
children are young, either because they C<lnflot find work or dley
cannot earn enough to support their families.
What e-.m be done to help teen parents move toward economic self-
sufficiency? What are the costs of doing nodling?
What Does Teen Pregnancy
Cost the Public?
recent study by the Center for Population Options estimated
that l<1XJ)ayers spend $16.5 biUion each yC'Jr because of teenage
pregnancy. This is an estimate of public oudays for AFDC, food
st;mlpS, ,md Medie-.ticl. It does not take into account private costs borne
by f,unilies and non-pUblic institutions, nor does it include a mC<lSure of
the subst;mtial human costs involved. Putting these caveats aside,
however, dlere are two import;mt rc<ISOns why this and sin1ilar large
estimates of the welfare costs associated with teenage pregnancy need
to be used C<lutiously.
First, dlis $16.5 biUion figure is not an estimate of current expendi-
tures on teen parents but of the IOta/. cost associated with AFDC, food
stamps, and Medicaid payments to all women who began their
childbC'Jring a<; teens and who ;ue currendy on welfare. The cost, in
other o r c l ~ , does not include just a 19-year-old on welfJre today. It
includes a 29-YC<lr-old with a I O-year-old child. It even includes a 39-
YC'dr-old who had her first baby at 18, her second at 25, and who WdS
nevcr on welfare until last year. Even if we somehow could ensure dlat
thcre were no births to teens in 1987, we could not "save" $16.5 bill ion
next year, because only a small portion of this outlay is spent on teen
Second, attaching a public cost figure to early parenthood implies
that dlcre c<m be short-term if not immediate public savings gained
from decrC<lSing teen pregnancy and birth rates. This figure is an
estimate of costs, not of potential savings, and it is described as such in
the report. Yel, once under public discussion, this or any other figure
mises expectations about s.1Vings. WlliIe there may be subst;mtiallong-
term weLfure savings associated with reducing the numbers of l1OOlar-
ried teen parents, there are many reasons to believe that short-term
savings wiU not accrue and that, in fuct, reducing weLfure costs in the
long term wiU require us to spend more money now:
Only a part of the heightened risks of single-parenthood and
poverty that are associated with teenage childbearing C<ll1 be
attributed to age. Teen parents, prior to parenthood, have basic
skills deficits that place them at risk of dropping out of school,
unemployment, and poverty. Delaying p'Jrenthood may give
some teens extra time to complete school and find employment,
and it may give some of dleir partners extra time to do the same,
thereby increasing the dlances of marriage. Education, employ-
ment, and marriage are a woman's main routes to economic self-
sufficiency at any age. But this extra time wiU not help all teens.
For some, d1e delay simply wiU me;m that they enter the system
at age 21 rather than 17. The Center for Population Options and
others estimate that only 40 percent of the $16.5 billion
associated with payments to recipients who began clliIdbearing
in dleir teens could have been saved if all these women had
delayed childbearing until dleir twenties.
The bulk of the costs associated with teenage parenthood stem
not from the fuct lillit teen parents are more likely to enter the
system than those who delay parenthood, but rather from the
fact that, once in the system, they experience longer stays.
Reducing the likeWlood that teen parents entering the system wiU
remain for long periods of time wiU require direcdy addressing
the reasons for their increased dependency: poor basic academic
skiUs, and little job experience and few job skills. This requires
up-front funding for education, training, ,md job placement
progranlS; continued funding to adequately support the d1iIdren
during the parents' training; and funding for support services
such as child care and transportation. It also requires the
realization that not every tr'.tining program graduate wiU be
placed, and that, for many of dl0se placed, the fl.fSt job or first
several jobs may not pay wages adequate to support a fan1i\y or,
equally important, may not provide key benefits such as health
insul".mce. Transitional supports, therefore, are essential.
The additional costs of tr'.tining teen parents aside, reducing the
munber of teen parents entering d1e system and targeting young
entrants for special training and support that wiU reduce their
potential stay in the system will not result in immediate or short-
term savings because these new entrants account for a small
proportion of all new entrants and an even sl1klller proportion of
all reCipients.
Ellwood strongly recommends that young women with children be
targeted for special progr.m1S to increase self-suffiCiency. Yet Ellwood
rightfully cautions poJicymakers d1at these programs would have
subst;mtial effects on welfare savings only in the long term. He notes:
': .. Suppose we could identify with certainty the estimated 24
percent of all new redpients who will have weLfure durations of 10
or more years and could reduce lheir welfare benefits each year by
half as a result of some intervention. Doing so eventually would
lead to a 30 percent reduction in welfare costs. However, dle full
saving.s would not be achieved for over 15 years. Initially, the
savings in total costs would be only 2 percent since only new
reCipients ;ue served."
The $ 16.5 billion figure, because it is so easily misunderstood,
overstates the welfare costs associated with births to teens, and raises
expectations unfairly about the potential savings that C<m be realized if
births to urunarried teens decline. Using the same figures for average
AFDC, food stamp, and Medicaid costs per family, as well as the same
assumption about the proportion of teen mothers who receive welfare
as were used in arriving at the $16.5 billion estimate, CDF calculates the
annual welfare costs associated with first births to teens to be in the
range of $2.7 billion. CDF's calculations assume the combined costs of
AFDC, food stamps, and Medicaid (including prenatal care and delivery)
for a family of two (single mother and one child) are $7,930 for one
year. A teen, then, who begins to receive public assistance before the
birth of her child and receives assistance after the birth will, on average,
cost about $8,000 a year in public dollars. If we then assume that one-
third of the 500,000 births to teens in 1983 were to teens who received
welfare during pregn.,mcy ancLbr after d1e birth, births to teens would
cost taxpayers about $1 .4 billion.
One then must add costs incurred by teens who are already mothers.
There are about 1 million teen mothers. If one-third of them are
receiving welfare, $2.7 billion is a generous estimate of dle total welfare
COSts associated with the support of births to teens, since the base figure
of $8,000 includes $3,000 for Medicaid-covered prenatal care and
delivery. (This overestimate is partially balanced out by the fact that
about one-quarter of the births to teens each year are not flfSt birdls.)
The question of saving public money is, in dle end, a very slippery
one. The this report has considered are welfure costs. The Center
for Population Options estimates that the public welfare costs associated
widl me family of a teen parent on welfare during some portions of the
20-YC'M period (from birth to adulthood for two children) is $15,620. If
dle teen does not give birdl and does not go on welfure, there still will
be public costs, especially if we want to ensure that the young woman
has skills dlat will help her earn a decent wage. The aver-age cost
associated with a student's completion of four yelfS at a public college,
for example, L'i $15,000, about equal to the welfare costs. If one
stopped all teen pregnancy and all poor potential teen mothers went to
college the "public costs" would be sizable. This is obviously not a
"cost" we should try to avoid as a society. The coll ege graduate will pay
back more of her costs through taxes. The female college graduate,
during the course of her lifetime, C'm expect to earn two-and-one-half
times the income a female higll school dropout can earn (half of all teen
mothers fail to complete high school). Nor are we arguing that every
teen mother W,lS a potential college graduate before she becanle a
The public cost argument is someiliing of a "red herring." It is naive
to d1lnk, ;md misleading to encourage others to think, that we can
reduce teen pregnancy and save substantial amounts of money in the
short term. The teens who become parents and become long-term
welfare recipients are teens who, both before and after childbearing, are
in need of intensive and long-term education and employment tf'aining.
If we are successful in helping them avoid pregnancies, we may incur
equal or greater public costs man the welfare costs that often follow
teen pregnancies. But it is because of the costs to the teen mod1el; to
her child, to their family, and to their community that we must reduce
teen pregnancy and increase dle skills and opportunities that lead to
self-sufficiency - not because of the potential dollar savings to the
he difficulties of helping teen fumilies move toward self-
sufficiency, evidenced by their increased likelihood of welfare
dependency, underscore dle absolute urgency for us to set in
motion stf'ategies to prevent early parenthood. The deficits
faced by teen parents - males and females - in d1e arelS of education
and employment are in many ways the strongest evidence we have d1at
prevention strategies must go tar beyond improvements in sex
education and contraceptive services.
1 he ability to avoid unintended pregnancy is dependent upon two
dlings. One is the capacity to delay pregnancy - information and
counseling on sexuality for all teens and contraceptive services for
sexually active teens. The second is the motivation to delay pregnancy
- good to believe that delaying pregnancy is in dle best
interests of the teen and dle future child. This "life options" theory, as
the latter is called, suggests that for many teens who lack adequate life
options - ;md thus lack compelling reasons to delay pregnancy -
C'apacity-building programs alone will not be enough to help them
successfull y avoid pregnancy. These teens also need assistance mat
increases their life options by increlSing their basic skills, knowledge,
and self-esteem, their information and exposure to a variety of adult
roles and role models, and their basic opportunities for education,
community participation, and employment.
Every sexuall y active teen is at risk of early parenthood, but the teens
at greltest risk arc those with the lelSt potential to provide for the
f.mtiJies dley begin. This perverse relationship does not grow out of the
aVaililbility of welfare, but out of dle teens' poverty and related
problems. Teens who become parents are disproportionately teens with
few opportunities and few skills, and the teen parents who enter the
welfare system are often me most disadvantaged of this group. If we
truly want to reduce the welfare costs associated with early parenthood,
we will have to resolve our current debates over fan1ily planning and
sex education. But dlat will not be enough. We also will rulve to go far
beyond them to address the full array of adolescent neecls that
frequendy go unmet in poor fumilies and poor communities:
Good academic skills coupled with sound decision-making and
problem-solving skills.
Adequate health care.
Development of work-related skills and work experience.
Social responsibility and social awareness that connect youths to
the community.
Personal growdl whereby teens understand themselves and their
values, and develop strong self-confidence.
In addressing each of these afelS of need we will have to reacl1 far
beyond the welfare system - and well beyond the public instirutions.
The r-mge of comprehensive services necessary to ensure future self-
suffiCiency for teens cannot be discussed in detail in dle space of this
report. These service strategies have been the topic of earlier Adoles-
cent Pregnancy Prevention Clearingl10use reports and will be discussed
in future issues.
J n the following sections we discuss a number of strategies for
assisting teen parents - males and females - to achieve self-suffiCiency
and eliminate their dependence on the welfare system. Investments in
similar strategies are also essential if we are to prevent early parenthood
and enable teens who are not yet (YMents to move along a steady path
towMd self-sufficiency. An agenda for enhancing furure self-sufficiency
among teens, including dlOse in AFDC fan1ilies, must provide increased
opporrunities for education and employment, as well as strategies to
ensure that teens are provided basic income supports and are helped to
cIke advantage of dle resources available to dlem. Special efforts can be
undertaken on behalf of teens in AFDC furnilies.
In CDF's September 1986 Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention
Clearinghouse report we spelled out dle important role that sd100Is
must play in preventing adolescent pregnancy. Teens in AFDC fan1ilies
should be encouraged to stay in school, but special attention also must
be given to their needs for remedial education and the development of
resources to meet dlOse needs. Poor teens in AFDC fan1ilies who are
working hard at staying in school and getting an education to build
In 1985,7.2 million families lived below the federal poverty
level- 25.7 million people, of whom 13 million were
children. (The federal poverty level for a family of three in
1985 was $8,573; $10,989 for a family of four.)
More than 41 percent of the 13 million poor children lived in
families with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty level in
Fifty-four percent, or more than one in two children, living in
female-headed fanlil.ies are poor, a rate more than four times
the 11.7 percent rate of children in other families; 72.4 percent
of Hispanic, 66.9 percent of black, and 45.2 percent of white
children in female-headed households are poor.
Almost three-fourths (74.2 percent) of the single-parent
families headed by a woman younger dlan 25 were living in
poverty in 1985. For white families the figure was 68 percent,
for black families 86 percent.
their futures should continue to be included in their parents' AFOC
grant to age 21 as long as they remain in school, and should not be cut
off from assistance at age 18 or 19, as they are now.
Preparation for employment is also an important part of an agenda
for future self-sufficiency for AFOC teens. Employment t.l:',lining
programs c1 introduce these teens to the world of work and provide
them the skills they need to succeed in jobs. A paying part-tinle job can
build a base of work experience and can provide a powerful incentive
to stay in school, enhancing future employability. Teens in AFOC
families should be ensured slots in employment u"aining programs,
and subsidies received should not jeopardize their family's eligibility
for AFOC.
Case managers can be used effectively to help teens in AFOC families
benefit fully from available education and employment programs, as
well as other services that should reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. A
number of the comprehensive selvice progranls for teens use case
managers to assess the teen's strengths and needs and link the teen with
a range of necessaty services. The state of South Carolina recendy
tat'geted teens in AFOC fatnilies, who are not yet pregnant or parents,
for case management services atld is selving more than 200 children in
131 families. The Teen Companion Progranl relies heavily upon adult
and peer companions to provide guidance and support to patticipating
teens and their t:'lfTlilies. Teens enroll ed in the program take part in an
individualized assessment of their needs and the development of a
Youth Incentive Plan that prescribes future activities or appropriate
Basic income supports and health care are also essential if children in
AFOC fatnilies are to grow and develop into self-sufficient adults. Non-
parenting teens will benefit, as will teen parents, from the enhanced
enforcement of child support obligations of their own fathers, and from
atl improved income support system for single-parent and two-parent
The maturation of all our young people - those on AFOC and those
who aren't - into skilled, productive, and self-sufficient adults is now
more crucial to this nation truUl ever before in history. The contribution
of every child or teenager growing up today will be increasingly
inlportant as our population as a whole gets older and we rely on the
next generations to support our economy and government. Not only
will each of today's children be counted on more, but we will need
many more of them to bring high levels of skills to the workplace.
More than 9 million persons work but still remain poor; 2
million of them work part time. The number of persons who
work but remain poor has increased by 30 percent since 1978.
Today a full-time mininmm wage job only brings earnings
equal to 75 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of
three. This is in large part due to the fact that the real value of
the minin1um wage has dropped by more than 25 percent
since 1981 due to inflation.
For most families poverty is transitional. Families move in and
out of poverty due to layoffs and hirings, wage increases and
decreases, illnesses and recoveries, deaths and births, marriages
and divorces. Research conducted at dle University of
MiChigatl documented that rougluy one of every four
Americans was poor in at least one of the 10 years between
1969 and 1978. Only 2.6 percent of the total population was
persistently poor - that is, poor during eight or more of the
10 years studied.
I7-year-old, never-married young woman who has no
children graduates from high school, enters college, and four
years later is in the job market holding a college degree. At the
time this young woman was writing her college applications,
a second 17-year-old, never-married young woman had a cllild,
dropped out of school , and applied for AFOC. Five years later she
remains in the system (as have more than 70 percent of the women
younger than 25 who enter dleAFDC system). We would like for her,
too, to "graduate," as would she.
How can she "graduate" from welfare?
Those seat'ching for solutions to the problem of teen parents on
welfare ti'equendy focus on a single answer: work. Many say teen
mothers should be required to "work off" dleir grants in assigned work
placements. Such short-term work strategies, however, may undercut
dle long-term self-suffiCiency through work that we desire for teen
parents and dlat is necessaty to reduce welfare dependency.
Teen parents - modlers and futhers - are disproportionately poor
teens with poor basic skills. The young momers who are on AFOC and
the young absent fathers are, data suggest, the most disadvantaged of
this disadvantaged group. Two-dlirds of all AFDC momers between the
ages of 17 and 21, for exanlple, have basic skills that leave them reading
at or below dle sixdl-grade level. Clearly, we want these young parents
(many of whom do not have higll school diplomas) to become able to
work to support meir cllildren. But the academic and work-related
deficits d1at many of these teens have lead us to believe that by
requiring them to work in1mediately we may curtail rather than
enhatlCe their future economic prospects. If, however, we encourage
dlem to complete their education and to receive job training, they will
have more to offer me labor market and better chances for future self-
Similarly, child support often is looked to as a solution for teen
pat'ents on welfare. Support payments from an employed teen futher
may be more likely to move a f.:tmily off welfare temporarily than the
smaller contributions that could be expected from a teen father who is
still in school or in a training program - but at what long-term costs?
Assistance to these young fathers to increase their earning capacity over
the long-term might well be a wiser investment.
For many (not all) of the young women who enter the system as
teens, there do not appear to be any quick routes off welfare sinlply
because their entries were determined as much by their lack of
education and employment skills and opportunities (and those of their
partners) as it was by the birth of a child. Had they not had the child
they would have been ineligible for AFDC. But had they and their
partners had the skills and opportunities needed to move toward self-
sufficiency, they may never have become parents at an early age or
been forced to turn to AFDC for support.
It is often tempting to seize upon a single solution for all teen parents
- whether mandatory work or school enrollment or other activity -
as a way of pushing young AFDC reCipients toward self-suffiCiency. But
these simple prescriptions ignore the complexity of the problems facing
most teen parents. If we intend to help I"dther than punish young
mothers on AFDC, a more comprehensive response to their needs is
Any effective strategy for bolstering the self-suffiCiency of teen
parents must begin with remectial education for those who have not
graduated from high school. Builcting upon this foundation of improve-
ments in basic skills, we also must find ways to give teen parents -
mothers and fathers - solid job skills and stable employment opportu-
nities. Finally, steps to increase paternity establishment and child
support as well as efforts to ensure teen parents access to adequate
income supports ,md a wide array of necessary supportive services are
important elements of a comprehensive approach. Those who expect
such initiatives to produce quick or easy results are likely to be
ctisappointed. Yet these strategies represent sound long-term invest-
ments in the future self-sufficiency of teen parents which, if supported
and sustained, will yield a lifetime of ctividencls.
or teen parents to succeed in their efforts to achieve self-
sufficiency, they must have solid academic skills, as well as sound
decision-making and problem-solving skills that will help them
compete in the labor market and cope with other demands of adult life.
Schools and other educational programs ,u'e therefore essential parts of
a self-sufficiency str'dtegy for teen parents.
Too often, however, it is assumed that pregnant teens and teen
parents are a representative sample of the in-school population. These
teens, it is commonl y acknowledged, face high risks of dropping out of
school. Half of teen parents younger than 18 never ftnish school, and
four of 10 teen women leaving school cite pregnancy or marriage as the
reason for leaving. However, these low rates of school completion
typically are attributed to the demands and ctifficulties of pregnancy and
parenthood rather than on the underlying educatio14l1 deficits of teens
who become parents at an e'dfly age. Until recently, relatively little
attention has been paid to the possibility tllat teens who become
parents may have been doing poorly in school before they became
pregnant. Data now suggest that this is a very strong possibility:
Data from the National Longituctinal Survey of Young Anlericans
show tllat three of four of the 14- to IS-year-old mothers had
basic skills deficiencies in reacting and math that ranked in the
bottom one-fifth of skills of all girls in their age group.
Analyses of the High School and Beyond data collected by the
National Center for Education Statistics show that more than one-
fourtll of the teens who had dropped out of school and had a
child between their sophomore and senior years had dropped
out before they became pregnant.
Because teenagers' basic academic skills shape to a considerable
degree bOtll their likeWlOod of bearing children out of wedlock at an
early age and tlleir future employment prospects, education is a vital
part of efforts to prevent welfare dependency. Andrew Sum's analyses
of the National Longituctinal Survey data incticate that young women
(ages 18 to 24) with poor basic reacting and math skills are four times
more likely to receive AFDC tllan tllOse Witll average basic skills,
undoubtedly in part because of their increased risk of early parenthood.
1wo-thircls of all AFDC motllers between the ages of 17 and 21 have
basic skills that place them in the bottom one-fifth of all young women
in their age group.
Educational goals for teen parents, inclucting those on AFDC, must
be established tl1fough individualized assessments of their strengths and
needs. Those who aJre-ddy have graduated from high school should be
encouraged to explore options for college-level courses. Others who
have dropped out before graduation will be able, with appropriate child
care and other supports, to return to their regular high school programs
and obtain their ctipJomas. But many will need special help to
strengthen tlleir basic skills, inclucting remedial education tailored to
their individual abilities and tlle supportive services necessary to keep
tllem moving toward graduation or completion ofa GED.
The common expectation that teen mothers should continue in or
return to their regular school shortl y after delivery ignores the needs of
many teen parents - their special educational needs as well as those
specifically related to parenthood. Few schools can provide the
additional supports tllat teen parents often require to cope with the
demands of parenthood. Further, many schools are not well equipped
to serve teens who have fallen far behind their peers academically. For
these reasons, requiring teen parents to return to their regular schools
- without recogni7Jng their inctividual needs or the capacity of the
schools to respond to them - can be a sure prescription for failure.
In response to the needs of teen parents and other at-risk youths who
do not fare well in the tractitional school environment, more flexible
programs have been developed to allow students to work at tlleir own
pace with tlle inctividualized attention they need to succeed. Examples
of such non-tractitio14l1 approaches include:
The Bridge Program in Boston established its own program of
high school equivalency courses because it found the pregnant
and parenting adolescents in tlle program often ctid not do well in
existing GED programs tllat had little experience with their
needs. The program employs two teachers and a remectial
education specialist and holds special graduation ceremonies
each yeal: Follow-up also is provided by job development and
career guidance counselors.
The Comprehensive Competencies Program developed by the
Remectiation and Training Institute in w.t5hingron, D.C. offers a
state-of-tlle-art system for inctividualized, self-paced insmletion
t l l ~ l t can be used by schools or community-based organizations
to improve the basic skills of teens who do not get the help they
need in u-aditional classrooms. Witll support from the Ford
foounrultion, the Comprehensive Competencies Program has
been tested in nearly 200 sites serving 10,000 learners, inclucting
teen parents and other teens at risk of school failures as well as
adults with poor basic skills.
Any educati onal programs targeted on teen parents must recognize
the needs teen parents have for cl1ild c,1Ie, transportation, and other
support services. Research has found lack of adequate child care to be
tlle teen parent's single greatest barrier to participation in educational
progr'dIllS. Where possible, on-site child care or child care that is easily
accessible from the educational program should be arranged so parents
can be involved in the care of their infants and toddlers, enhandng their
own parenting skills as well as their children's well-being. It is essential
that child care assistance provided for AFDC parents who work is also
available to teens in school or training programs.
he task of making stable employment and eventual self-
sufficiency a realistic option for teen parents, particularly teen
mothers on welfare, is far from simple. Because of inequities and
shortcomings in public education as well as disparities in family
resources, poor and minority teenagers are more likely to have poor
basic academic skills, drop out of school, and lack tile knowledge,
guidance, and informal contacts necessary to enter the world of work.
Education programs to improve basic skills, vocational training to
enhance employability, and work experience progr-.uns to provide
exposure to workplace den1ands are key elements in any employment
strategy for AFDC teens. Job development strategies also will have to be
P'Mt of the planning in communities and states where widespread
unemployment precludes job placements. Programs that merely
provide short-term assistance or a temporary work assignment without
addressing the underlying barriers to employment mced by poor and
minority teens will have no lasting impact on welfare dependency.
Teen parents entering the world of work for tile first time at the 5an1e
time as tlley are adjusting to the major challenges of caring for a young
child must have an array of support services available to them to assist
in tllC transition. Adequate child care must be a component of any
work program. It is Significant, for exan1ple, that more than half of the
budget of the Massachusetts Employment and Tr'dining (ET Choices)
Program for welfare recipients goes for child care. Legislation for the
California work program for AFDC recipients (GAIN) included $36.5
million specifically targeted on expanding the supply of child care
resources. For young children of teen parents the child care demands
me even more intense. The costs of child care programs for infants are
higher than average, and tile supply falls well behind demand.
Given the complexities of providing child care and other supports
tllat teen parents need to prepare to work and to becomc established in
jobs, it is not surprising that parents with children younger tllan six
(most of whom arc young parents), always have been exempt from the
federal mandate tllat AFDC recipients register for the WIN (Work
Incentive) Program and participate in training, job search, or other work
progr'.uns if required to do so by tile state. States can require a single
parent caring for a child younger than six to partiCipate in work
progr-.uns by obtaining a special waiver from the federal government.
More recently, however, a number of states have established volun-
tary progr-Mns targeted to teen parents (primarily teen mothers) on
AFDC and, in a few cases, teens in AFDC households who are not yet
parents. These efforts generally have taken the form of pilot demonstra-
tion progran1S serving relatively small numbers of young women with
young children.
Illinois has sought to bolster the self-sufficiency of p'Ments
younger tllan 21 on public assistance as one part of its broader
"Parents Too Soon" initiative. The Young Parents Progr-.un has
served Chicago and surrounding suburbs since December 1983,
and is funded with federal social services block grant funds.
Parents who choose to enroll prepare individualized service plans
for mceting tlleir needs and goals, and are placed in one of the
program components: school, which includes high school, GED,
or remedial education; English as a second lmlguage; vocational
training; or group or individual job search activities. The program
reimburses parents for their day care and transportation
expenses, and provides personal and group counseling services
when necessary: Two-thirds of the participants are assigned to the
school component.
Wisconsin has been using WIN demonstration funds since early
1985 to establish case management systems that coordinate
education, training, and support services to teens between the
ages of 14 and 19 who are receiving AFDC. Projects now are
operating in 19 counties, urban and rural, and served 200 youths
the first year. The majority of projects are focused on the future
economic well-being of teens who are already parents. Two
projects, however, concentrate on teens in AFDC fumilies who
are "at risk" of becoming pregnant. The projects assist parents
who need special help in finding a job or learning about the labor
market. In addition, the Milwaukee project refers teen parents to
an alternative high school with on-site day care to assist them in
obtaining their diplomas. In rural areas tutors frequently are hired
to help teen parents earn their GEDs. P"Menting education, fumily
planning advice, and other counseling supports are also a part of
all the programs.
Ohio is launching a targeted program to provide intensive WIN
services to 200 teen parents who are school dropouts and are
eligible for or receiving AFDC. Ohio is one of several states
recently awarded discretionary federal grants for innovative
projects to serve teen p'Ments under the federal WIN program.
The state intends to offer a range of specialized services to
participating teens, beyond those typically available to WIN
registrants, including: remedial education, job readiness and
work experience programs, health services, child care, counsel-
ing, instruction in parenting skills, and peer group supports.
Strong linkages will be made with services provided under the
Job lfaining Partnership Act. Teens will participate in
individualized assessments of their educational backgrounds,
work histories, and service needs, leading to the preparation of
an Employability Development Plan to guide subsequent
Early evidence from state experimentation suggests that if work-
related programs are to be successful in meeting the multiple needs of
teen parents on AFDC, tlley must include several key elements:
Individualized assessments to identify barriers to employment.
A range of education, u-aining, child care, and other supportive
services to meet diverse needs and a case m=gement system to
ensure that teens benefit from the services.
Voluntary participation and choice in the selection of program
Appropriate transitional child care and health care coverage to
protect the healtll and well-being of the children while the
JY<lfcnts make the transition to work and self-sufficiency.
Continued follow-up after teens are placed in jobs to ensure that
obstacles to employment are elin1inated.
Most of the new initiatives incorporate many of these program
components. They provide for individualized assessments, devote
substantial energy and resources to case management, and emphasize
peer support for participants. Virtually all rely upon voluntary
participation. At the 5an1e time, however, most states have begun on a
small scale, targeting only a portion of their counties or major cities,
with limited numbers of staff. A commitment of substantial additional
state resources will be necessary to extend these supports to tile
majority of teen p'Ments on AFDC and otller teens in AFDC housell0lds
who need assistance.
Because teen mothers constitute the great majority of teen parents
receiving public assistance through AFOC, welfare-to-work initiatives
that attempt to serve young parents inevitably focus on these mothers.
However, an exclusive focus on such efforts that ignore the pressing
employment needs of male youths (including teen fathers) may
produce perverse results, exacerbating the disincentives to family
formation already posed by high rates of joblessness among young men
and by the absence in half the states of income support for unemployed
two-parent f.unilies. Additional programs to bolster employment
among teen males could enhance young fumilies' prospects for
economic self-sufficiency significantly and thereby make an important
contribution to welfare prevention efforts.
Child Support
hild support also often is looked to as an answer to welfure
dependency for teen parents who are receiving AFOe. The vast
majority, more tllan 90 percent, of AFOC fumilies are headed by
single mothers where the father is absent from the home. The task,
howevet; of pursuing child support from absent fathers - especially
young fathers who are at best likely to be in school or u-aining pro-
grams, and at worst, unemployed and without any resources or
prospects - is extremely complex.
For young parents, the task of obtaining child support often is
complicated further because the majority of dlildren born to teens are
born out of wedlock. Before child support can be pursued from the
father, paternity must be established, either voluntarily by the father or
through a court proceeding.
The particular complexities of pursuing child support from young
absent fathers must be viewed against the backdrop of the problems in
general child support enforcement efforts across the country. The
system is already overwhelmed by current requests. In 1983, more than
half of the 8.3 million women raising a child whose father was absent
from the home had been awarded child support pursuant to a
voluntary or court-ordered agreement. Of those, only half received the
full amount of me award; 24 percent received no payment. For
younger motllers, 18 to 29 years old, only one-quarter reported
receiving any payment. And for unmarried women, the percentage
receiving any payment was only 9 percent - a figure that reflects, in
part, the barrier paternity establishment creates for child support
For AFOC recipients, general child support enforcement problems
are greater. Although all AFOC recipients must assign their support
rights to the state as a condition of eligibility for AFOC, and can lose
their benefits if they fuil to cooperate with child support enforcement
efforts, clilld support collections were made for only 10.5 percent of
AFDC furnilies in FY 1984. In AFOC cases states are rewarded financially
for collections. Although since 1984 mothers on AFDC have been able
to keep $50 a month of the child support collected for their children
without it affecting their grants, any additional amounts collected go to
the state.
improvements in child support are beginrling to occur as a result of
implementation of the federal Child Support Enforcement Amend-
ments of 1984. The 1984 law requires states to adopt certain proce-
dures to assure the effectiveness of the child support enforcement
prGgranl for all dilldren.
Concern about the adequacy of support for children born to teen
parents and the special circwnstances of teen parents require that more
careful attention be given to three problems inherent in securing child
support on tlleir behalf. First, states or localities should make efforts to
begin to educate and fumiliarize teens - females and males, parents and
non-parents - with the responsibilities of all parents, young and old, to
support their children financially. Teens also must be taUgllt about the
benefits to their children that can result from establishing paternity, and
about the various procedures for paterrlity establishment. Such efforts
will require significantly increased interaction between child support
enforcement agencies and programs serving teens.
The Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program (ThPP) in San
Ff'dllCisco has had a long commitment to the establishment of paternity
for the males it counsels. However, the program fmds that tlle men
generally have little information about the paternity process, and
exhibit ambivalence and confusion that result in resistance to moving
allead. The males fear the legal system and the commitment to child
support that paternity represents. But when they are ready to make the
commitment they sometimes find that prosecutors are unwilling to take
paterrlity cases when me men are younger than 18 and unemployed.
The ThPP experience indicates the need for special attention to be
given to a second major child support problem - the process and
procedures for paterrlity establishment, especially as they affect young
parents. In a few states, for exanlple, a minor cannot voluntarily admit
paterrlity. Other states require that a guardian ad litem be appointed to
represent tlle best interests of the minor father.
A careful look also must be taken at tlle negative impact on paternity
establishment of a grandparent liability law such as Wisconsin has
implemented. Preliminary data seem to indicate a decline in that state in
voluntary adjudications of paternity. The likely explanation is that
because paternal grandparents can be pursued for support only after
paterrlity has been established and support has been sought from the
father, therefore they are cautioning their sons not to facilitate the
paternity process. Meanwhile, howevcr, it's the children who lose,
particularly when given tlle legal and psychological benefits of paterrlity
establishment beyond the collection of dilld support payments.
Third, special consideration must be given to new ways to obtain
child support from young fathers. Robert Lerman, analyzing data from
the National Longitudinal Survey of Young Americans, reports that
young absent fathers generally come from more economically
disadvantaged homes tllan do other young men, and are more likely to
be school dropouts and to have lower employment rates. He further
reports tllat young, never-married absent fathers are less likely man
others to make child support payments.
For fatllers who are minors themselves or older teens who are
enrolled in school or employment tf'dirling progf'dlllS, awards may be
adjusted so thc teen is not required to drop out and work in order to
meet his child support obligation, when completion of his schooling or
training will more likely lead to substantial child support payments in
tlle future. For example, fatllers in school or training programs who
have no earned income should perhaps be allowed to supplement a
token cash contribution with in-kind support, such as dolling, diapers,
or baby-sitting, for as long as they are enrolled in the special program
and enhancing their future economic stability. This approach currently
is being used with some of the fathers participating in a special progranl
operated in New York City by the YWCA of the City of New York and
tlle Vocational Foundation, Inc. and funded by the City'S Human
Resources Admirlistration. The program, opef'dted since January 1985,
is targeted on fathers ages 16 to 25, most of whom are receiving public
assistance or have children on AFOe. The prOgFdffi'S goal is to help
fathers move to a position in which they are able to provide fmancial as
well as emotional support to their children.
Case Management
f we are to assist teen parents to care for themselves and their
children and prevent second pregnancies, a variety of health,
family planning, nutrition, education, employment, child care, and
housing services must be mobilized to meet tlleir individual needs. A
strong case management system can help ensure tllat a comprehensive
and coordinated set of services is in place and that individual teen
parents benefit from the services.
Effective implementation of a case management system requires
coordination, at the system level, of the various agendes involved in
delivering services to teens. Staff responsible for interagency coordina-
tion must ensure that barriers to service delivery are addressed and that
the resources available are sufficient to meet the needs of program
A case manager must also be assigned to individual teens in the
program. The individual case manager functions as both a counselor
and broker for the teen. To become self-sufficient a teen must learn to
fmd and use appropriately formal services such as health care, funily
planning, and job training, and to ~ l c h out to family members. The
manager can help the teen acquire the dedsion-making, problem-
solving, and interpersonal skills necessary to use these and other
resources. The key to the success of a case manager lies in the relation-
ship developed with the teen and his or her funily as well as the skills
acquired by the teen to negotiate a complex system of social services.
The case manager model, borrowed from the areas of mental health
and child welfare, is cost-effective because it allows for early identifica-
tion of needs, and prevents problems from intensifying. It also ensures
more effective use of services and avoids duplication. However, it only
can be successful if qualified, trained staff are chosen to assist the teens.
Case managers must be knowledgeable about adolescents and skilled in
communicating with them. They also must be familiar with community
resources, and sensitive to cross-cultural concerns and client needs.
Manageable caseloads, flexible hours of service, and adequate staff
supports are essential if the case manager is to assist the teen
San Francisco's comprehensive TAPP program successfully uses case
management in serving its teen parents. They have fewer repeat
pregnandes, stay in school longer after delivery, and have fewer low-
birthweight babies than do teens nationally. TAPP's individual case
managers (called "continuous counselors") serve a variety of functions
for the young mothers and fathers in the program: client identification
and outreach, individual assessment, service planning, linkage with
services, monitoring or service delivery, and client advocacy. The
counselor's relationship with the teen is maintained for up to three years
or until the teen is approximately 19 years of age.
New York State currently is experimenting with a variety of models
for case management services to pregnant or parenting teens younger
tl1aI1 18 who are receiving AFDC or state public assistance, as well as
teens living in AFDC families who are not pregnant. Nine one-year pilot
projects in local social services districts got under way early in 1986.
Evaluations of these programs will assist the state agency to establish
statewide case management requirements for AFDC teens as mandated
by the Teenage Services Act of 1984.
Cash Assistance
trategies for enl1aI1cing self-suffidency and reducing welfare
dependency also must address the need for early investments and
supports for the children born to teen parents to ensure that they
develop the strengths necessary to ensure later self-suffidency. Too
frequently in discussions of welfare dependency, all attention is focused
on the parents while the spedal needs of their children - who may be
at great risk themselves - are ignored. Because special concerns related
to children of teen parents will be the subject of a future Adolescent
Pregnancy Prevention Clearinghouse report, here we will emphasize
only the importance of a system of adequate income supports for these
children and their parents.
Currently AFDC benefits in most states are so low that they fail to
provide even a minimum level of subsistence. In 32 states AFDC benefit
levels .in]u1y 1986 were less than 50 percent of the poverty level; in 41
states even combined AFDC and food stamp benefits were less than 75
percent of tlle poverty level. Furthermore, in 25 states children in two-
parent unemployed families are ineligible for even these low AFDC
benefits, regardless of how desperately poor they are.
We must work toward assuring working and non-working families a
level of subsistence to meet their needs. In large part due to a 25
percent decline in the real value of the minimum wage since 1981, even
a full-time worker with two children has an income equal to only 75
percent of the poverty level. Rather than penalizing families that are
struggling to work, often at very low wages, supplemental assistance
should be available to assist them in their transition off welfare.
An adequate income support system is also critical for families in
which young parents are not currently able to participate in education
or employment programs. The lllinois Young Parents' Program, for
example, a spedal program for AFDC parents, found that about one-
fourth of teen parents who chose to enroll in the program had funily or
other sodal problems preventing their immediate partidpation in the
education or employment components of the program and requiring
services from other providers. Some were homeless, or had children
who were ill or had physical or emotional problems themselves. Other
young parents may be awaiting enrollment in a remedial education
program that will address the learning difficulties that have precluded
their success in otller programs.
Assistance must be offered in a way that helps keep families together.
At a minimum, all states should be required to extend AFDC coverage to
poor two-parent lmemployed families (AFDC/uP). Changes also must
be made in the stringent eligibility requirements for AFDC/uP that
make it espedally hard for families headed by teen parents to qualify for
assistance. The requirement that the prindpal wage earner must have
received unemployment insurance in the past year or have worked six
or more quarters during the prior 13 quarters should be altered, for
example, by allowing young parents to substitute quarters in school or
employment training for the prior work requirement. As we talk about
increased attempts through education and employment to help teen
parents become more self-suffident and less dependent on welfare, it is
easy to forget that we are in fact talking about the futures of two
generations of children - the parents themselves and their own
children, often infants or toddlers. We must be careful not to deny these
young children basic food, clothing, shelter, and health care as polides
are implemented to move their parents off of welfare. All children need
these basics as well as the essential protection of a nurturing funily.
merica has never fully accepted the idea that prevention is
cheaper than remediation. We see the effects of this
backwards thinking in everything from prenatal care to
early childhood education-Americans are simply
reluctant to put out the money until the problem actually occurs,
even if research and common sense both suggest that this is a
more expensive approach. The effort, time, and resources required
to help teen parents build the skills and find the jobs they need to
avoid or to leave the welfare rolls is strong testament to the need
for public investment in preventing pregnancies. This will require
not just investments in sex education and contraceptive services,
but major investments in bettering the lives of low-income children.
Aponte, R., K. M., and Wil son, W. J., "Race, F:1I11i l y Structure and Social
Policy," in Working P'Jper 7, RC/ce& fblicy, National Conference on Social Welfare, Project
on the Fedcf:11 Social Role, Washington, D.C. , 1985.
R. I. , " Who Are the Young Absent Fathers?", 8mndeis Uni versity, November
19/1S, Prep"red t'lr the U.S. Department of HC:llth and Iluman Services.
M S. H., OJildrell As Parems: A SllIt(V of OJildl1e<llill[!, alld OJildrearillf!, Amollg 11- 1(;-
15- )L'Clr-Olds, New York: Chil d Welfare League of Ameri ca, 1981. Center t'lr Population Options, "Estimates of Public COSts for Tccmlge Childbe:lring: A
Review of Ikcent StutU"S :U1d Estimates of 1985 Public Costs," Washington, D.C.,
February 1986.
Duncan, G. j . anti Hoffman, S. D., " Welfare Dynamics and the ature of Need," Ann
Arbor, Michigan, February 10, 1986, Prepared for the Conl(:rence " The Polit ical
Economy of the T=sfer Society."
Ellwood, D. T .. "T;lrgcring ' Would-Be' Long Tcrm Recipients of AFDC," Princeton, N.j.:
MathematicJ Policy RCSC'Jrch, Inc.,january 1986, Prepared for the U.S. Department of
II",dth Hnd llumHn Services.
Ellwood, D. T. and Bane, M.). , " The Imp:lCt of AFDC on Family Structure and Living
ArrJngcment.," Ilarvard University, March 1984, Prep"red for the U.S. Department of
IIC'dlth andl luman Services.
Moore, K. A., Childbirth and Welfare Dependency," Falllily PIt/lll1illg
1-I?/:5j X,\:/il>e5, .Iul y/August 1978, Vol. 10.
Morrison, A. , Analyses of High School anti Beyond chua, unpublished papers, Rand
Corpor:uion, Sant:l Monica, C llifornia, 19/1S.
Murray, c., "According to Age: Longitudinal Profiles of AFDC RecipientS and the Poor by
Age Group," New York, September 1986, Prep;lfed For the Working Seminar on the
Famil y and Americ;1I1 Welfare Poli cy.
I'olit , D. f and R., "Earl y Subsequcnt Pregmlncy among Economically
Disatlv:lI1taged Mothers," Al1Iericalijollrllal of Public Heallb, February 1986, Vol.
E,jr., " The Social Consequences "I' Teenage Parenthood" in Furstenberg, f
jr., Lincoln, R., and Menken,). (Eels.), Ti.'(!l/ClgeS(!')'lIalil)1 PregllclIIC)1 CII/dChildlx>arillg,
Philadelphia: Universi ty of Pennsylvani:1 Press, 198 1.
Sum, A. , Anal yses of data on basic skills levels of teens from the National Longitutlinal
Survcy of Young Adults, unpublished papers, Center for Labor Market St udies,
University, Boston, Massachuseus, 1986.
CDF's Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Clearinghouse publishes
six reports a year on preventing children having children in a
subscription series. Six issues (one year) , $17.95. Single issues,
$4. (Includes first-class postage. )
HA VING CHILDREN explains why teen pregnancy is a problem,
separates some common myths about adolescent pregnancy
from fact, and explores ways of creating opportunities and
hope for our children that will help them avoid too-early
pregnancy. 16 pp. , 1985. $4 (includes first-class postage).
AMERICA'S CHILDREN is the most comprehensive examination
available of the complex factors affecting infant health, with
extensive data for the nation and the states on birth outcomes
of teen births, infant mortality, low-birth weight births,
prenatal care utilization, federal and state benefit programs,
progress toward the Surgeon General's maternal and infant
health goals for 1990, and more. 328 pp., 1986, $9.95.
examines child poverty, fanlily income, education, health and
teen pregnancy, documenting the steady economic decline of
America's children and of black children in particular since
1980. 144 p., 1985, $9.95.
CDF REPORTS, the monthly newsletter for people who want
to improve the lives of children, details national , state, and
local activities in: adolescent pregnancy prevention, child care,
education, mental health, foster care, adopt ion, child abuse,
and child welfare. Twelve issues (one year), $29.95


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