Whatever choices women make at work and in life, those choices are easier if they delay child-bearing. Having a kid while you are a still a teenager can seriously curtail your options. Which is why it is good news that American teen-pregnancy rates are at historic lows! The rate of teen pregnancy has been falling since 1991 and dropped again dramatically in the last four years.
So, I must ask, why in the world, as the crisis is abating and fewer teens are facing the challenges of early child-rearing would the city of New York spend $400,000 on a campaign to publicly shame teen parents? That’s why this week’s letter goes to the man who signed off on that campaign.
Dear Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
It’s me, Melissa. What happened?
Mr. Mayor you have an enviable track record of supporting reproductive rights and advocating for common sense, proven strategies that reduce unwanted and unplanned teen pregnancy. You mandated comprehensive, age appropriate sex education in schools. You’ve worked to make sure that birth control is available to young people so that they can make wise decisions and delay becoming parents. And the city’s teen pregnancy rate has declined more than 27% in the last decade. Good job!
But then, this week, these–shall we say–troubling posters began appearing around the city. Each one featuring a well-fed, gorgeous, but obviously distressed toddler who is spewing questionably interpreted data and plenty of social shame at his or her mythical parent. Things like, “If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98% chance of not being in poverty.”
Nope. Nope. Nope.
See, Mr. Mayor, that is what I am talking about. You know full well that poverty has increased even as teen pregnancy has decreased. And that child poverty is much more closely linked to low-wage work and barriers to employment than it is to maternal age. And you know that poverty among African Americans and Latinos has increased even though those communities have seen the most dramatic decreases in teen pregnancy.
That is the kind of misleading statistic that might lead some people to, you know, blame young mothers for America’s deepening poverty crisis rather than putting the blame where it belongs, on a financial system that concentrates wealth at the top and public policies that entrench it there.
And then there is this poster.
I am rarely rendered speechless, but this one…just… I mean…
In a society that constantly tells black girls and women through popular culture and public policy that we are easily disposable, un-marriageable and wholly unlovable, this image of a child mocking her young mother with partner abandonment is a step too far. Maybe you don’t realize this, Mr. Mayor, but most of us who were raised by single moms never had any interest in shaming them. We tend to praise them. Recognize their sacrifices and see all the ways they worked to make the world better for us even when it was hard for them.
So listen up, Mr. Mayor. I know you have kind of a thing about labeling as a public health strategy. You can’t so much as buy a falafel from a street vendor in the city these days without having to read a label with all the nutritional information attached! OK, that is fine. And, reducing teen pregnancy is a worthy goal.
But keep your labels off these young people.