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.

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18 responses to “The Most Cost-Effective Anti-Poverty Program Known to Man: Contraception”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    On this – I’m in agreement with SOME of what Jim is saying AND eureka – he’s NOT “blaming”, he’s pointing to the actual problem AND he’s pointing to a solution. Congrats!

    I’m in agreement that having kids when you’re a teen and/or in poverty is a losing proposition for all of us but there is a big BUT and that is that “we”..incentivize having kids in the tax code – big time from the Child tax credit to the earned income credit to free medicaid (one of the biggest costs in Basic Medicaid (not the expansion).

    Many, non-poor, middle-income folks who have kids are treated very favorably in the tax code anyhow but the Earned Income credit is keyed to income and the less you make – the bigger the credit!

    Colorado dropped teen births by more than 20% by making contraception, including IUDs available to teens without requiring parental consent.

    “Colorado law allows those under 18 to give their own consent regarding birth control and sexual health services. … The drop in pregnancies “averted” $66 million to $69.6 million that might have been spent on four state and federal welfare and health care programs for low-income mothers, the researchers found.”

    In BR, discussion often focuses on “disruptive” kids that get caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline – most often guys but it’s the gals who get pregnant, usually have minimal education who cannot get but the most minimally-paying jobs – and their kids live in poverty, require great sums of tax dollars – everything from free/reduced lunches to Medicaid to TANF, etc.

    AND when those kids grow up to be teens – it repeats itself.

    So the progressives are all about “helping” those in poverty -it’s true but many progressives are also in favor of birth control – IUDs and the like and Conservatives typically oppose it and so we end up with the situation we have now.

    I think Jim have moved the needle a little by acknowledging that preaching abstinence is ineffective but… he’s not yet come out full-throated for providing contraception to teens without parental consent.

    The other part of this is that if we can prevent teen births – we also need to ensure that they stay in school and get a much better education that they are right now at these schools that are primarily populated with kids from poverty neighborhoods where “mom” is barely out of her teens herself – yes – they have kids when they are 13 and 14 and their kids start school when they are 21/22.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am not buying the proposal that “the biggest “root cause” of poverty is poor people having more children than non-poor people do.” However, I do agree wholeheartedly that contraception should be made widely available and not just condoms, which males may or may not use, but also IUDs and birth control pills. Local health departments provide these contraceptives, at no cost for many people. As Larry points out, it would help if these programs could be available to teen age girls, without parental consent. Also, it would probably help if the programs were more widely publicized.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Virginia Statute § 54.1-2969
    . . . E. A minor shall be deemed an adult for the purpose of consenting to:

    2. Medical or health services required in case of birth control, pregnancy or family planning except for the purposes of sexual sterilization;

    Anything else you want in VA law, Larry? I’m pretty sure Medicaid pays for it, if you are covered. Other programs are available if not on Medicaid. It’s not Virginia conservatives who object to paying for contraception, that would be Virginia Catholics….

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Good for you, Steve. I was not aware of this provision. I did look at the web site of a local health department and this information is not prominently displayed, if at all.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      I guess free birth control is not free enough.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I remembered it was law but had to search a bit. Remember, the fight years ago was to GIVE parents some level of consent to minors seeking abortions.

    This is basic uncontroversial stuff. Finish high school, married before children (or at least a father willing to take financial responsibility), space the kids 2-3 years apart, stay out of trouble with the law, stay away from drugs, etc. I still think government itself is a major cause of poverty with its tax policies, our screwed up medical system, high fines leading to court debt, and the many ways it profits off the poor up to and including legalized drugs and gambling (with a big skim on both for the Tax Man.) There is nothing more hilarious than Concerned Liberals standing at the ribbon cutting of a casino or a head shop. It’s like they WANT more poor people.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I agree with you on most of this. I am particularly distraught over the opening of the casinos in Richmond, Vinton, and Norfolk, with more to come, it seems. That is something that Virginia does not need, profiting from those least able to afford it. The Lottery is bad enough.

      1. djrippert Avatar

        Dick – I will be happy to place an illegal bet for you on any sport at any time in any amount. Personally, I don’t bet on sports but the idea that you need a casino to gamble in Virginia is pretty ridiculous in this day and age. You can even bet fantasy sports legally in Virginia …

        “FanDuel and DraftKings won a major victory in March of 2016, when the state of Virginia voted overwhelmingly in favor of regulating DFS contests, adding DFS betting to the short list of legal bets in the Commonwealth. Called the Fantasy Contests Act, the bill outlines how daily fantasy sport sites (which basically means DraftKings and FanDuel) can operate legally in the state, and what they have to do to stay on the right side of the law.”

        It’s legal to gamble on horse racing in Virginia. Use your computer and place your bets. Watch the races on cable TV.

        If you want to sit at a legal casino and gamble, that’s not too tough. Drive across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and go to the MGM Grand – conveniently located as close to the Virginia border as humanly possible by the beneficent State of Maryland. As a matter of fact … why drive to MGM Grand from Richmond? There is perfectly fine bus service available:

        Poor Virginians are already gambling. A lot. It’s just not creating jobs in Virginia or tax revenues for Virginia.

    2. djrippert Avatar

      The real GDP by state numbers are out for 2018:Q3 – 2018:Q4. Guess what? We suck – again. Eight of the 11 states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana are growing faster than us. Colorado and Washington (the two states with the longest tenure as legal states) are both growing at more than twice Virginia’s rate. When will the reefer states collapse?

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I wouldn’t say 2.8 percent GDP growth for the year “sucks” but it certainly is a tad below the national average, and way behind plenty of other states. (Texas and Florida aren’t pot states yet, are they?). Tomorrow CNBC reports its best states for business list and I’ll rely on you DJ to analyse how the pot states fare there. The real interesting cross comparison should be pot laws and the migration patterns.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      What sucks is Virginia being below the national average for quarter after quarter, year after year. We’re becoming a relatively poorer state. However, none of that stops Governor Coonman and the Gang from expanding government spending. We’re already within eyesight of being a Maryland – like state (economically speaking) and on a course for California status.

      Speaking of California:

      1. Adjusting for cost of living – the poorest state in the US.
      2. Fourth worst income inequality
      3. 37th state for K-12 public school quality
      4. Highest marginal tax rate, 11th highest overall tax burden

      We’re on our way.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” This is basic uncontroversial stuff. Finish high school, married before children (or at least a father willing to take financial responsibility), space the kids 2-3 years apart, stay out of trouble with the law, stay away from drugs, etc. ”

    That’s not the reality when you are sons/daughters of single moms who are badly educated and at the bottom of the economic ladder and really doesn’t know much better herself much less able to give “sage” advice about what the right path is. That’s the thing about poverty… it’s wretchedly ignorant without much hope for better unless as a kid – you do get a good education – grow up and get a good job and THEN think about having children and how to pay for them and prepare them for a better life.

    It’s easy for someone who is economically secure to “offer” such advice but if you are really and truly serious about actually doing something about this – it will take much more than platitudes.

    And I don’t say that to ding you – it’s just the simple and harsh realities that we will not change with “advice” about how to grow up….

    From Boise – which is a city of more than 200,000 and has traffic out the wazoo as well as a nice greenway where one can get an hour or two of brisk walking in. Drivers are more polite – not as evil as NoVa……

    Tomorrow we head for Salmon ,Id sans computer and connectivity though I might log in early morn before we leave.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, give me a break. Poverty does not cause crime. My grandmother had an 8th grade education. She was married and had four sons. My grandfather went to the dentist, was given gas and died in the chair. Her oldest kid was 10. Her youngest was two. She lost the house. Everything the dentist owned was in his wife’s name so she got nothing there. They received a $68 per month World War 1 widows pension plus whatever they could scrape up. And some of her relatives moved in with her. And this was during the 1930s.

      While my dad and his brothers were hardly angels, none went to jail. Three served in WWII. All worked and raised families. And none of the grandkids went to jail.

      There are lots of similar stories of poor people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds who raise kids that don’t spend their lives in prison. And now we have government support programs up the wazoo. We have free will.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Yes, thanks TooManyTaxes. Their story is the central story and central driver and reality of the human race in the world.

  7. Thanks 2many taxes. My grandfather had an 8th grade education. My grandmother a high school diploma. My grandfather got an apprenticeship, which his son did. My Mom, his daughter, worked her way thru secretarial jobs. Married my Dad, had 2 kids. 3 college degrees between us.

    Choices. Once you make those choices, then show me how bad/good things are.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Taken from earlier post on this website, namely “Moral Measures, Skin in the Game, and K-12 Education, dates March 15, 2019

      TooManyTaxes | March 16, 2019 at 10:31 am | Reply

      Larry, you’re the one dodging questions today. Given the trillions spent on reducing/eliminating poverty since the Great Society and the general failure of federal/state/local government programs to reduce, much less eliminate, poverty, why should the public support more programs?

      I will concede that some people are in poverty through simple bad luck or physical condition. But more people are poor because they make bad decisions over and over again. Why does society have a duty to bail out people from the results of their bad decisions? If you enable bad decisions/bad behavior, you get more of it.

      Every parent has faced the problem of when to stop bailing out their kids and making them suffer the hard consequences of bad decision-making. Each kid presents different circumstances but at some time, a kid needs to accept the consequences of bad decisions. Otherwise, when bad decisions have no negative consequences, more and more bad decisions are made.

      I guess your position is that all the people who generally don’t make bad decisions over and over again need to sacrifice their income, their dreams and quality of life to bail out people who make bad decisions consistently. And from there, it’s just a small step to AOC’s ideal world where we must meet the financial needs of those unwilling to work.

      When has society done enough?

      NorrhsideDude | March 16, 2019 at 7:22 am | Reply

      I think we’re all about ready to find out if money fixes poverty and “institutional racism” (disregarding Nigerians, Asians, and India-indians if course).

      As the pendulum swings due to “orange man bad” and “white man bad” political syndromes, we are very likely going to see a blue Virginia and possibly a completely blue US government.
      I hope the morally superior get to have their skin partially removed for their games.

      The talk of 70% wealth reassignment should have them a tad concerned. I guess Becky won’t be shopping at Lululemon and Keith won’t be getting an iPhone XTi… oh and when the housing and stock markets dive because discretionary investment money is gone it’ll then get real. But we’ll have economic justice for the masses (again disregard the ruling class… they don’t count)!
      Y’all might want to teach your kids to hunt and fish now. There will only be so many zoo animals to go around.

      Reed Fawell 3rd | March 16, 2019 at 10:26 am | Reply


      I love your commentary, sharp, punchy, original, insightful, on target, too – it grabs my attention while hitting me upside the head.

      Like his slap: “Y’all might want to teach your kids to hunt and fish now. There will only be so many zoo animals to go around.”

      Despite all that genius, I got a bone to pick, this: “I think we’re all about ready to find out if money fixes poverty and “institutional racism” (disregarding Nigerians, Asians, and India-indians …).”

      Why? Because we already know that money don’t fix poverty and institutional racism, only makes both worse, in the minds of a least half of us anyways, and its less than a nose away, staring us in face.

      Try this in five easy steps:
      1. Draw the letter U,
      2. Turn letter U onto one of its sides,
      3. Mark bottom left hand end of U “1900 (Gilded Age)”,
      4. Mark top left hand of end of U “2o20 (Gilded Age)”,
      5. Mark middle right hand end of U “1959 (American Dream Era).”

      1959 statistically was the apotheosis of American Dream.


      The gap between the rich and poor was the smallest ever. The middle class was largest ever percentage wise. Plus the relative rise of the poor into the middle class was highest ever. All this happened between 1900 and 1959.

      Then Surprise, Surprise:

      The reverse happened between 1960 and 2019, America tumbled black into its second Gilded Age. Plus its society tumbled back into post civil war ruins.

      Why? Many reasons. One is that ultimately money is root of all evil.

      Reed Fawell 3rd | March 18, 2019 at 9:24 am | Reply

      The Wall Street Journal today confirmed my comment immediately above in an article titled “The War on Poverty Remains a Stalemate. Professors. Eric Hunushek at Stanford and Paul Peterson at Harvard, conclude that:

      “Since 1980 the Federal Government has spent almost $500 Billion (in 2017 dollars) on compensatory education and another $250 billion on Head Start programs for low income preschoolers” with no apparent positive result whatsoever.

      To prove this abhorrent result, “we tracked achievement gaps between those born into families with the highest and lowest levels of education and household resources.” Namely the preexisting gaps between the top 10% versus the bottom 10% at 14 years old, and also at 17 years old, have not narrowed over the past 50 years, since the War on Poverty was launched.

      Thus “For those who were born in 2001 and turned 14 in 2015 the (achievement) gap was still three to four years. Similarly, the 75%-25% gap remained wide – between 2.5 and 3 years …”

      “Also, the persistence of these gaps is not caused by changes in schools ethic composition.” Nor are these Federal programs lifting all boats. Neither the haves nor the have-nots are making any achievement progress at all in student performance. Nobody is improving. And those who do fall back to their earlier lowest levels by the time the reach 17 years old.

      In short our Federal Government has wasted $750 Billion.

  8. There’s been a lot of research on what causes a nation’s birth rate to drop, as it has e.g. in Japan, and of course here in North America, but also notably across Europe. Overall economic prosperity is certainly a factor; a related factor is overall educational levels. What you show, JB, is the flip side of that; within a nation where the overall trends are towards fewer children, those who are left behind economically, who lack the education, do not share in the lower birthrate. I am certainly all for making contraception freely available to those who need it (despite all the hypocritical preaching they’ll receive on the subject) — indeed it would help them immensely to lessen their parental duties — but there’s more to breaking the poverty cycle and bringing down the national birth rate than just throwing contraception at these folks’ economic condition.

  9. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “— but there’s more to breaking the poverty cycle and bringing down the national birth rate than just throwing contraception at these folks’ economic condition.”

    Yes, that is true. For example, the human race will disappear into extinction. That is the course Japan, North America, and across Europe now are on, extinction. The lesson here is that prosperity, success, and rational thought bring with them extinction. It will be a painful exit. Society as we know it will go broke and collapse first.

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