Single moms, poverty and contraceptives

Let’s talk about a subject that few in Wisconsin, including the media, want to talk about. That would be the interconnection between the epidemic of births to single mothers, poverty and contraceptives.

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, r-Brookfield Wisconsin

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, r-Brookfield Wisconsin

One brave Wisconsin legislator has broached parts of the subject. In his yearend letter, Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) talked about Christmas and the importance of meaningful relationships and on that theme wrote:

“The problem with many government programs is they discourage a traditional family structure. Near the start of the war on poverty, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a well-respected Democrat from New York, warned that the public benefits associated with assisting black families may have the unintended consequences of discouraging traditional black families. He was ridiculed by many in academia and government – precisely those who were designing the government based solutions.

“At the time, one in four black children were born to unwed mothers. Today, two out of three black children are born to unwed mothers. This is not necessarily a racial issue 50 years later. The likelihood of being an adult in poverty is more closely correlated with being born to an unwed mother than correlated to race. In other words, a black child born into poverty, but with a traditional family structure, is more likely to escape poverty than a white child born into poverty without a traditional family structure. I am not preaching my world view, I am simply summarizing the data.”

He goes on to tell of his successful fight for the “Safe Families” program that enables hosting children while their single mothers get their feet under them with services like rehabilitation and job training. His family has hosted several children.

Kooyenga is tackling a problem that needs to be tackled even more broadly. First off, his numbers are on the low side. The birth rate to single moms of all kinds in Milwaukee County is 55%. It’s 37% across Wisconsin. Births to black single mothers in Wisconsin and Milwaukee are 85% and 87% respectively.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks in great part to a $50 million donation from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation that made contraceptives widely available from 2008 to 2013 in Colorado, the single birth rate for all moms has dropped to 23% there. For black moms it is 42%, half of the Wisconsin rate.

The foundation has done break-through work to promote updated IUDs, the contraceptive of choice for most women, and LARCs (long acting reversible contraceptives). It aims to lower the price on a generic IUD to $50 to make them affordable. The IUDs are more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancies.

One in five Colorado women now uses LARCs, driven by teens and poor women.

According to a Bloomberg report on Buffet’s game changing philanthropy, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, said, “The initiative has saved Colorado millions of dollars.”

Giving women choices saves spending on welfare, crime prevention, rehabilitation and special education. It also allows women to have the time to become trained, fill unfilled jobs and pay taxes instead of using taxes.

In short, reducing births top single moms is not only a social issue; it is also economic development issue that needs to be tackled in a color-blind manner.

For openers, Wisconsin needs to get the issue into the public dialogue about poverty, income inequality and workforce development. Kooyenga got the dialogue started for the new year.

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  • James Hermann

    John: Your post starts out on the right foot discussing the promotion of the traditional family structure but tails off into things that actually do not promote family, like contraceptives. Promoting contraceptives just promotes promiscuity not family. I do support looking at this colorblind.

  • Bill Kraus

    Is Dale going to weather a kickback from the Catholic church or have they been deranged by a story from your roots being shown at theaters as Spotlight?

  • Tim Nixon

    John,
    The jump in one parent families occurred in the ten years following the onset of Nixon’s War on Drugs. We as a society never seem to learn we can’t legislate away our bad/self-destructive habits. The first disaster in that area was prohibition in the 1920’s. The country kept drinking, but it created a sub-economy for the illicit sale and distribution of alcohol. Al Capone was Chicago’s poster boy for that industry . So in ’33, we realized the folly of our ways and repealed the 18th Amendment.
    But in ’73, Mr. Nixon recreated that illicit economy with his war on drugs. Suddenly there was a way for young minority kids in the cities of our country to make a decent living without needing to go to school and, more importantly, become part of a stable family unit. These young men became members of urban gangs financed by drug money.
    The damage didn’t stop there. South and Central American countries have become politically destabilized by the creation of what have become hugely powerful drug cartels. Columbia signed an agreement recently with such a cartel that transferred dominion of a huge part of the country to its control. Mexico deals with a similar problem and continues to devote vast resources to counteract the influence of powerful illegal drug gangs.
    So let’s get real. Free contraceptives are a band aid. The solution to this problem is bringing opiates, cocaine, etc. back into the legal economy. Their sale can be taxed and controlled in a way similar to the way we do with alcohol. The money we save on fighting a losing battle can be spent on helping addicted people get rid of their habit(s).

  • medie robinson

    John. I speak from observation, reading, paying attention and having raised well adjusted, successful, kind and well rounded children. I have no formal education in this regard.

    I went to grade and high school during the 60’s and university in the early 70’s. My upbringing was two parent middle class with myriad bumps in the road; dealing well and not so well with a parent dying young, sudden poverty, some suspected mental illness, alcohol abuse, an unsuccessful step family situation, siblings and friends doing a coctail of trendy drugs, rebelling, recovering and moving on to have productive lives.

    Oh, the 1960’s. I am not going to speak in absolutes or point fingers but I strongly feel that the root of a multitude of today’s ills, including the explosion of single parent families, are rooted in this time. Our whole (North American) universe morphed from a very structured, rules governed and no doubt, stifling set of life rules to an anything goes free for all where all convention was questioned and/ or dismissed. I fear that the baby was thrown out with the bathwater.

    ‘Anything goes’ from the 60’s has cascaded into a witches brew of ‘actions without concequences’. I see few imposed limits at home or in the community. I see little respect for authority. I see parents (or parent) who are not vigilant or engaged and not leading by example. Example means eschewing victimhood, working hard, setting goals, having high expectations, enforcing limits and tough love, showing pride of place and family.

    Good life outcomes result from fertile ground, not a desert or a vacuum.

    We need to start enforcing existing rules and laws in the community, at home and in in school. Enforcement means appropriate penalties for infractions. Achievement must be rewarded. School choice is imperative and the cream will rise. We all need to be engaged on whatever level fits. Mentor. Agitate. Lobby. Volunteer. Lead by example.

  • Diana Jonen

    I’m all for contraceptives being more easily available, but contraceptives can only do their job if young women value themselves enough to understand how having a baby will affect them for the rest of their lives. The statistic showing that single motherhood begets single motherhood reveals a cultural issue that won’t go away by making contraceptives more easily available. Public service campaigns aimed at responsibility and consequences for both sexes, and mentoring for girls, need to be part of the equation.