STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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How about we don't try to frame teen pregnancy as a red state versus blue state issue?

Yesterday, I reported on the Teen Parent Center in Grand Rapids, a shelter for teen moms who've been kicked out of their homes. I also pointed out that, in Michigan, about 11 thousand teenagers get pregnant every year. 

Today, I came across what, at first, seemed like a handy map from the folks at Slate and the New America Foundation. The map shows which states have the highest rate of teen pregnancy, and  which states require their sex-ed classes to include information about contraception. Slate's conclusion? "Red" states are more likely to have high teen pregnancy rates, and states that don't require students to learn about contraception have high pregnancy rates. As the headline says, "Red States = Teen Moms". 


I guess I don't completely disagree with the point. It's easy enough to see that a number of southern states that tend to vote Republican also have high teen pregnancy rates, and that a number of those states don't require students to learn about contraception. But there are also lots of red states that have low teen pregnancy rates, like Utah, and even some "red states" that require contraception to be taught, but that have high teen pregnancy rates anyway. 

So, should teen pregnancy really be framed as a "red state-blue state issue? I don't think so. Even if the correlation exists, there are better ways of understanding teen pregnancy rates. 

For example, here's a map of births to moms who are under the age of 20, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Center:

And here's a map of the number of kids in poverty, age 6-17:

And here's a map showing what percentage of 18-24 year olds aren't in school, aren't working and have no more than a high school degree:

I see a lot more correlation in these maps than in the red-state, blue-state maps

I'm not saying that politics tells us nothing about how to address teen pregnancy. I'm just saying that education and economics tell us a lot more. 

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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