The teen pregnancy rate has dropped by nearly 10% in the last year (!)—but 15,000 North Carolina women under the age of 20 still got pregnant. Teen pregnancy is one of the biggest factors that contribute to lifelong generational poverty, and NC teens are suffering.
During the 1990s, teenagers faced pregnancy at all-time high rates, with 120 out of every 1,000 young women experiencing at least one pregnancy. Twenty years later the rate has decreased by more than 50% due in large part to increased access to birth control and improved sex education.
But in North Carolina, sex education has moved backwards, with young people learning less now than they did in 1994. Previously teens learned about contraception, disease prevention, and pregnancy. Laws passed several years ago gave NC school districts the right to opt out of teaching comprehensive sex-ed. Although the 2009 Healthy Youth Act revised our state’s health curriculum to require education about contraception and HIV, there are still hundreds of thousands of students who are falling between the cracks.
Teen pregnancy is the number one reason teen girls drop out of high school, with more than 50% of young moms failing to graduate. Only 2% of teen moms achieve a college degree before their 30th birthday. Young mothers without high school diplomas face a lifetime of poverty, with job prospects being limited to low-wage, and blue-collar jobs.
As with many factors that adversely affect young women’s health and wellbeing, teen pregnancy inordinately affects women of color. In North Carolina, 58% of teen births are to black or Latina women despite these women making up a minority of the population. Among women having subsequent pregnancies in their teens, more than 80% are women of color.
It’s encouraging to see teen pregnancy rates decline, but there is still a lot more work to be done. North Carolina has the 19th-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, and Hispanic teens experience one of the highest rates in the country. It’s essential that North Carolina lawmakers prioritize programs that help support young women, and provide teens with the information they need to make healthy choices.