According to the West Virginia Kids Count organization, more than 46 teenage girls (ages 15-19) out of every 1,000 in West Virginia gave birth during 2011. To put this into another perspective, one out of eight babies born in the state are born to a teen mom.
The fact that rate is higher than the national average (34 per 1,000) is troubling enough. But in some counties, the problem has increased during the past few years.
When teenagers have children, the consequences can be severe and lingering. For example, about one-third of girls who drop out of high school say they did so because they got pregnant.
Poverty rates for both mothers and children in such situations are higher than for other segments of the population. And especially for younger girls, the risks of bearing unhealthy babies are higher.
As the report noted, the rate of babies born to teenagers in West Virginia during 2011 was 46.3 per 1,000 girls. That makes teenage pregnancy a statewide problem.
Kids Count offers several suggestions for reducing the rate. They include ensuring schools provide comprehensive sex education, giving young people "a credible vision of a positive future," helping adults work with children to curb the problem, and creating "community-wide action plans."
Learning more about why some counties have lower rates of teen pregnancies would be an excellent first step. Why is Gilmer County's rate (22.3 per 1,000) more than 20 points below the state average? And why is Gilmer's rate so much lower than neighboring Calhoun's. Why is Pleasants County's rate (30 per 1,000) so much lower than its neighbor, Tyler County's (52.5)?
Our population is among the most unhealthy in the country. Unless we can reverse these trends, it seems we will be doomed to repeating this pattern.While the teen birth rate is not the root of the state's problems, it does play a big part. The state's dropout rate is already too high and as long as that continues to be the case the cycle of poverty will continue.
Concern about teen pregnancy is nothing new. Clearly, however, despite decades of initiatives by government and in schools, success has proven elusive. A good next step, then, would be to find out precisely why teen pregnancy rates differ so much from county to county and attempt to use that information to curb the problem.