A Poverty-Fighting Program that Pays Its Own Way

Long-Acting Reversible Contraception -- poverty-fighting tool
Long-Acting Reversible Contraception — poverty-fighting tool

by James A. Bacon

People have lots of ideas about how to address poverty. Most of them don’t work, as the United States has learned from more than 50 years of building a welfare state. Ever-hopeful social reformers always have some bright new idea they believe will make a difference — unlike all the bright new ideas that failed in the past. In the process, poverty has metastasized from a condition of material deprivation into inter-generational family breakdown and social dysfunction atop of material deprivation.

Some people would rise out of poverty if the economy could create more jobs and pay workers more. How to accomplish that falls under the rubric of economic policy. But escaping poverty for others means overcoming the challenge of dysfunctional parents — typically poor, single women — raising children in a dysfunctional environment. The odds are mightily against them. A few extraordinary individuals break out of the cycle; most do not.

Inter-generational poverty is, at its root, a demographic problem: baby mamas having babies of their own before they have the means and maturity to be good parents. As I have blogged before, poor women give birth to more children, and earlier in life, than women in higher income brackets. That’s why, while 11.7% of all Virginians live in the poverty, according to 2013 numbers, 15% of all children live in poverty.

When Ralph S. Northam, Virginia’s Democratic lieutenant governor, opines about how to build a healthier, more prosperous Virginia, as he did this morning in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he places great emphasis on contraception — something you don’t see much of from Republicans. Northam also espouses traditional remedies like expanding Medicaid and pre-K education, which to my mind may alleviate the symptoms of poverty but do little to lift anyone out of it. But Northam’s discussion of birth control gets to the heart of the matter.

Citing recommendations of the Commonwealth Council on Childhood Success, of which he is chairman, he advocates expanding education and access to birth control, including Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) such as IUDs and birth control patches. The goal is to empower young women to decide when they want to start a family and when they want to focus on other life goals like getting an education or starting a business.

One such program in Colorado reduced teen births by 40% and teen abortions by 42%, Northam writes. “For every $1 invested in educating women and providing access to contraceptive options, the program saved Colorado more than $5 in Medicaid costs.” You can’t beat that: a program that funds itself out of the identifiable savings it generates.

Some Republicans and conservatives are reluctant to support birth control on the grounds that teenagers should practice abstention. Well, in an ideal world that would be nice. Republicans and conservatives should feel free to teach abstention in their own homes and churches, and even to include it as part of sex-ed curricula in schools. The idea might work in stable social environments where parents retain a lot of control over their children’s lives. But in the real world of inner cities and trailer parks and mountain hollows where peoples’ lives are more disordered, sex is happening regardless.

Think about it: A program like the one that Northam describes (1) reduces pregnancies and births among poor teens and young women, (2) reduces abortions, and (3) pays for itself with identifiable Medicaid savings. That’s about as close to a win-win-win as you can get in social welfare policy.

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11 responses to “A Poverty-Fighting Program that Pays Its Own Way”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Good GAWD O’Mighty – Bacon has turn into a “lefty” totally out of step with the “righties” on this issue!!!!

    Jim must have gotten into some GOOOOOOD stuff last night!!!


  2. This program certainly works. A true Win/win.

    Planned Parenthood could and should be doing this already with all their funding and political clout. Why don’t they? Follow the money.
    Abortions (and their post-abortion businesses) make them a lot of money. Giving contraceptives and actually giving the poor planning advice makes them less money.

    But Planned Parenthood is the group that “cares” for poor women and children. Not!

    1. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

      PP provides huge amounts of contraceptives. If I’m reading their annual report correctly, a full 31% of their patients are there for contraception. Only 3% of their patients are there for abortion services.

      I’m unable to find a number that shows how much revenue abortion services brings in. Over 40% of their revenue comes from the government, which specifically can not go for abortions (with Medicaid exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother).

  3. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    Interesting analysis. It would never happen in this state. I noticed that one of the first bills introduced in the General Assembly was to “Defund Planned Parenthood”. It seems other than ISIS the Republicans are more worried about birth control than any other issue, Please source the statement that Planned Parenthood makes most of their money on abortions.

  4. As you well know, Les, though you may not choose to acknowledge it: the reason to defund Planned Parenthood is not for their activities in contraception, though Margaret Sanger was for…what was that lovely policy? Eugenics? Yeh, that was it. The reason to defund is for their activities relating to partial birth abortions. Let’s not be disingenuous here, shall we?

    Sidebar OT: Ol’ Margaret’s grandson Alex was a clubmate of mine. His nickname was “Dirt”.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    why make this about PP – how about the State itself funding these and forget what PP does?

    lemme see – we can’t do IUDs separate from PP because……


    ” because there are groups we don’t like doing things we don’t like – we refuse to do anything ourselves”…

    sounds about right..

  6. You left out the part where baby mamas don’t want contraception. They want to be a baby mama. Education has nothing to do with that.

    1. Darrell got this part right. Even young single women, attractive ones IMHO, are going the single route and having babies without fathers. It’s absolutely insane.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      what Colorado showed was that a serious number of them – chose to defer children.

      the question here is – would you not offer it because some number would not use if – even if a significant number would?

      what kind of logic is that?

      you want guaranteed assurance of 100% success or you don’t do the effort?

      this is how we are “broke” … these days

      A 40% reduction is a failure – right? we apparently …. must fail… eh?

  7. What was the Colorado demographic compared to elsewhere?

  8. Government-sponsored programs such as these disproportionally hurt minority communities and, frankly, have a whiff of eugenics that should give every Virginia policymaker and taxpayer pause. Local, state, and federal governments should focus on other things. Taxpayers, this one included, prefer that our money be used for other things.

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