The Missing Link in D.C.’s Teen Pregnancy Rate: Poverty

America has witnessed teens in the media maximize on their opportunity to display life as a teen mom and the benefits of being a celebrity teen mom.  For instance, MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” show the lives of teens during and after pregnancy, in an effort to show the struggles and challenges of teen motherhood.  However, this effort is confounded by media outlets infatuation with their stories, which inevitably glamorizes the struggle for many, especially mothers who are then offered in cover stories on magazines.  While the reality for most teen moms, especially teen mothers in the District, pregnancy is a “one-way ticket to poverty” as quoted by Executive Director of The DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  Teens that become pregnant are many times at the mercy of public funding and support to take care of themselves as well as their children. 

Nationally teen pregnancy rates have fallen and hit a new low in 2009.  In contrast, Washington, D.C. teen pregnancy rates have continued to climb.  In D.C., The Department of Health reports from 2005-2008, teen pregnancy rose from 852 to 1,082 pregnancies.  Furthermore, teen pregnancy in Wards 7 and 8 account for over half of these pregnancies.  Babies born to teen mothers in D.C. are more than likely to receive a form of public assistance.  Of the families that receive the public assistance (DC Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), nearly 50% are teens.  There is no coincidence of the relationship between poverty and teen pregnancy.  Teen pregnancy in DC is a cycle of inheritance that corresponds to the individual poverty level and community.  In D.C. wards 7 and 8, the economic climate, job opportunities, and access to care feed the consequences of poverty including teen pregnancy. 

As new improvements to beautify the city such as new bike trails and shared car parking, the city government must demand appropriate funding and resources to combat first poverty, and thus teen pregnancy.  DC cannot continue to allow isolation of communities such as Wards 7 and 8 to determine the destiny of many teens and their families.  Teen mothers especially in these communities are ill equipped to provide an environment for raising babies.  DC must break the cycle of teen pregnancy and stop the generational dependence on public assistance.

Author: Lanita Williams

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  • gwmchstudents

    I find this topic very interesting because there are many risk factors involved when it comes to teen pregnancy. Numerous protective and risk factors (individual, environmental, peer, partner, and culture) have been shown to influence adolescent sexual behavior. Research has found that when the protective factors in an adolescent’s life increase or the risk factors decrease, or both, the adolescent will be less likely to have sex, become pregnant or cause a pregnancy, and more likely to use condoms and other contraceptives correctly. However, when risk factors increase, adolescents are more likely to be susceptible.  Studies have shown that some of these risk factors which put teens at higher risk of adolescent pregnancy, include living with a single parent, having older sexually active siblings or pregnant/parenting teenage sisters, residing in a disorganized/dangerous neighborhood and lower SES family, peer pressure, and being a victim of sexual abuse (Miller et al. 2001). Jencks and Peterson (1991) explain that teenage pregnancy in inner-city environments is often accelerated by perceptions of peers, family, and others and the notion that street culture is a highly attractive, alternative lifestyle. Often times, the inner-city teenaged girl who succumbs to pregnancy at age 15 or 16 is influenced by the culture of her peer group in which she dreams of marriage, love, and a stable future with a husband, children, and a home (Jencks & Peterson). While I agree that more funds need to target poverty and teen pregnancy, one must understand the underlying issues and tackle those first. This means understanding the decision-making skills, thought processes, and risk factors surrounding young girls who engage in early sexual activity and face the consequences, and finding ways to better focus prevention efforts based on their needs.


    Author: Rebecca Kurikeshu