“Janet” was the second woman I met in the workfare training class in Decatur, Georgia, and by far the cheeriest. Surprisingly honest, she had no compunction about admitting that children had not been on her agenda, and that was she was caught flat-footed when she realized she was going to have to learn to raise kids of her own.
She is a resourceful young woman, though, and by all appearances has the common sense get-up-and-go to work things out, whether it means sharing housing with family and friends to make it work, or participating in training programs to get ready for the workforce.
While there have been women I’ve met along this journey who had more kids than Janet, something about the way she talked about the impact having kids really struck a cord, and reminded me that birth control and family planning are effective ways of empowering women and keeping them from a lifetime of poverty and dependency.
The TANF program insists that one of the goals of TANF is to prevent and reduce unplanned pregnancies among single young adults, yet a Google search of TANF and Birth Control yields not a single relevant News item, and overall web results show only a smattering of state-level references to the topic.
And yet, as reknowned reproductive health researchers at the Guttmacher Institute note in their 2012 publication on unintended pregnancy, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and are heavily weighted towards the states with the highest levels of poverty, including Mississippi, which leads the nation in teen pregnancy.
This is not good news, and it is news that could easily be improved with widespread family planning and birth control use. So why the disconnect, and what can we do to fix it? The cost of birth control is miniscule in comparison to the cost of raising a child – what if instead of incentivizing childrearing by increasing TANF, Food Stamp, and housing payments according to family size (currently the practice in every state in the country) we turned that incentive around and incentivized NOT having children? What if we made over-the-counter birth control available using food stamps? What if every school provided thorough family planning education to help end the cycle of unplanned, unwanted pregancies?
I look at Janet, and I see potential energy diverted to childbearing and childrearing that she didn’t plan; how many more Janets are out there that deserve a chance at a life that revolves around more than childrearing and welfare dependency?