- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

A report recently issued by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) analyzing 1999 births in the United States contained some good news and, alas, some very bad news. The good news was that the teen birth rate declined once again in 1999, reaching a record low. Since 1991, the teen birth rate has fallen by 20 percent. Meanwhile, the teen pregnancy rate has declined 19 percent since 1991, "reflecting concurrent declines in birth and abortion rates," the NCHS study said.

The very bad news in the report is very bad indeed. The nation´s utterly anti-social trend involving illegitimate (out-of-wedlock) births, measured as a percentage of total births, continues its seemingly relentless increase. Indeed, the United States reached a milestone of social delinquency in 1999 as illegitimate births reached 33 percent of total births. For the first time in the nation´s history, unmarried women most of whom are in no position, financial or otherwise, to raise children by themselves effectively account for one of every three births. Given all that has been learned about the immense educational, criminal and moral disadvantages that afflict the majority of children born out of wedlock, this latest milestone is nothing short of a social catastrophe.

While it is true that the rate of increase in the percent of total births that are illegitimate has decelerated in recent years, it is also true that 1999´s record of 33 percent occurred three years after the passage of welfare reform, one of whose principal goals was to reduce the percentage of nonmarital births. Moreover, the 1,308,560 births to unmarried women in 1999, also a record, were roughly double the number of illegitimate births that occurred as recently as 1980, when the problem of illegitimate births 18.4 percent at the time was rightly considered to be a national disaster. In 1969, by way of perspective, illegitimate births were 10 percent of total births, double the 5 percent level that prevailed in 1958.

Different populations in the United States experience different percentages of illegitimacy. In 1999, 22 percent of births to non-Hispanic whites were out-of-wedlock, reflecting an increase of more than 30 percent since 1990. By contrast, blacks have experienced a less-than-2-percent increase in their percentage of illegitimate births during the same period. However, an astounding 68.9 percent of black births for all practical purposes, seven out of 10 were out-of-wedlock in 1999. In America´s big cities, the percentage is even higher, sometimes much higher. For Hispanics, an ethnic category that comprises both white and black races, the percentage of illegitimate births was 42.2 percent in 1999, compared to 36.7 percent in 1990.

While 33 percent of all births to women of all ages in 1999 were illegitimate, the comparable figure for the 20-to-24-year-old-age cohort was 48.4 percent, or nearly one of every two. In 1999, more than 475,000 women in this age group double the number from 1980 gave birth to out-of-wedlock children. Among blacks, the percentage of out-of-wedlock births in this age group exceeded 80 percent.

Moreover, while the teen birth rate has notably declined since 1991, it is also worth noting that the number of out-of-wedlock births to women in the 15-to-19-year-old-age group, owing to the growth in population of this cohort, has remained nearly steady during the past six years at roughly 375,000 per year. Thus, despite the progress achieved during the 1990s in reducing the birth rate among teen-agers, as long as nearly 400,000 teen-age girls give birth each year to out-of-wedlock children, whom they are in no condition to raise, the social costs to America as well as to the children themselves, both mother and child will continue to be extreme. Regarding the horrific fact that one of three children born today is illegitimate, Congress, when it reauthorizes the 1996 welfare reform legislation next year, will need to evaluate what incentives it can provide to encourage marriage before childbearing and discourage childbearing outside of marriage.

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