The Most Cost-Effective Anti-Poverty Program Known to Man: Contraception

Back to exploring “root causes” of poverty… This chart shows vividly how poverty is a demography-driven phenomenon. Poor people have more children than the not-poor do, and they have children at a younger age. The consequence of this “disparity” in fertility rates is that the percentage of children raised in poverty is vastly higher than the percentage of poor people in the population as a whole. Even as thousands of Virginians succeed in lifting themselves out of poverty, the reservoir of poor people is continually replenished.

In the chart above, I compare the poverty rate (blue bar) with the children-in-poverty rate (orange bar) for all of Virginia’s cities and counties (except Bedford, which, strangely, is missing from my data source, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps). Other than in communities where large college student bodies skew the data, the pattern is universal: The percentage of children who are poor is higher than the percentage of poor in the population as a whole. (Due to space considerations, I did not identify each locality in the chart. You can view the data here.)

The biggest “root cause” of poverty is poor people having more children than non-poor people do — not an inequitable economy or structural racism or some other pseudo-cause postulated by progressives dedicated to the proposition that America is a racist, inequitable society.

These numbers should be celebrated. Poverty in Virginia is not a dead end. A large percentage of Virginians raised in poverty manage to climb out. They may not become Wall Street hedge fund managers, university professors, or even cable TV pundits, but they do make a better life for themselves.

While the existence of the fertility gap is devastating to the social-justice view of poverty, the numbers provide little comfort to cultural conservatives — at least not to those who oppose contraception. If we want to reduce the incidence of poor children in the population, we need to empower poor women to take control of their fertility. It’s fine, even admirable, for churches to preach abstinence to teenagers, but let’s not pretend the strategy will be terribly effective in an increasingly secular society. The most cost-effective anti-poverty program in existence (far preferable to abortion) is contraception. If reducing poverty is the goal, that’s where we should invest our resources.