In 2005, America continued to make progress in reducing the teen birth rate. Unfortunately, however, the nation suffered yet another major setback in its effort to address the ever-burgeoning problem of out-of-wedlock (i.e., illegitimate) childbearing. Specifically, out-of-wedlock births exceeded 1.5 million last year for the first time ever, representing 36.8 percent of all births in the United States. Another finding was the fact that the Hispanic birth rate precisely doubled the non-Hispanic white birth rate, according to data reported by the National Center for Health Statistics in its recent report, “Births: Preliminary Data for 2005.”
Last year the birth rate for teenagers fell 2 percent, declining to 40.4 births per 1,000 women 15 to 19 years old. The 2005 rate represents a 35 percent drop from the 61.8 rate that applied in 1991, the most recent cyclical peak. Over that 14-year period, the teen birth rate plunged from 118.1 to 60.9 (or 48 percent) for non-Hispanic blacks and from 43.4 to 26 (or 40 percent) for non-Hispanic whites. The teen birth rate fell from 104.6 to 81.5 (or 22 percent) for Hispanics, whose teen birth rate is now more than double the overall rate, more than three times the rate for non-Hispanic whites and more than a third higher than the rate for non-Hispanic blacks.
Among 2005’s total births of 4.14 million were 1.53 million babies born to unmarried women. How large a number is 1.53 million? It is the equivalent of each year adding more people than are now living in Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth-largest city. It is nearly three times the population of Washington, D.C. Over a 10-year period, it is equivalent to adding nearly two cities the size of New York City to the nation’s population.
For decades the “illegitimacy rate,” (a term which has now entered the realm of the politically incorrect), was colloquially understood to represent the percent of total births that were born to unmarried women. Thus defined, the illegitimacy rate increased a full percentage point in 2005, rising to 36.8 percent. Among non-Hispanic blacks, while the illegitimacy rate marginally increased by 0.2 percent, it nonetheless reached a staggering 69.5 percent. For non-Hispanic whites, the illegitimacy rate reached a new milestone, exceeding 25 percent after leaping from 24.5 percent in 2004 to 25.4 percent in 2005. Perhaps more alarmingly, the illegitimacy rate for Hispanics increased by 1.5 percent in one year, reaching an increasingly worrisome rate of 47.9 percent.
The rise in unwed births is “disastrous, about as big a leap as we’ve ever had,” Robert Rector, welfare analyst at the Heritage Foundation, told Cheryl Wetzstein, of The Washington Times. He noted that the unwed birth figures leveled off and seemed to stabilize for a time after Congress passed welfare reform in 1996. However, recent increases in these numbers “clearly show that the impact of welfare reform is now virtually zero, and we are going back to the way things were before welfare reform,” Mr. Rector told Mrs. Wetzstein.
The trend in the illegitimacy rate over the past four and a half decades has been startling. Out-of-wedlock births comprised 5.3 percent of total births in 1960, including 2.3 percent of white births and 23 percent of black births. Today illegitimate births are now approaching 40 percent, a level that will be reached before President Bush completes his second term if the rate of increase in 2005 (2.8 percent) is repeated over the following three years.
Decades of social-science research have confirmed that there is a direct correlation between the incidence of illegitimacy, on the one hand, and the incidence of poverty, educational problems, prison confinement and innumerable other social problems and pathologies, on the other hand. Thus, the exploding illegitimacy rate among Hispanics is especially ominous given that the Hispanic birth rate (23) is now double the rate (11.5) of non-Hispanic whites, whose illegitimacy rate (25.4 percent) was roughly half the Hispanic rate (47.9 percent) in 2005. Moreover, the Hispanic birth rate increased in 2005, while the birth rates for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks declined. Indeed, non-Hispanic white women bore fewer children in 2005 than they had in 2004, while Hispanic births increased by 3.9 percent. The rising Hispanic birth rate is further augmented by the soaring and disproportionate Hispanic immigration rate. Unless the trend in the Hispanic illegitimacy rate is reversed, social problems in the coming decades will certainly explode — not only within the Hispanic community, but throughout the nation as well.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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