Gervais gets it right on condoms for teens

One of every 20 girls in grades six through 12 in Oregon’s Gervais School District got pregnant this school year. That’s right. One of every 20.

So the District, thinking of those nine girls and others, as well as the boys involved, is making condoms available to students in those grades, its Superintendent, Rick Hensel, said yesterday. The District is on the right path.

A study last year by some nursing interns at Oregon Health & Science University revealed that 42 percent of Gervais High School students surveyed said they “never” or “sometimes” use anything to protect themselves from pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

The disturbing rate of teen pregnancies in Gervais runs contrary to overall trends in Oregon, where teen pregnancies girls dropped 55 percent from 1988 to 2010, according to a Guttmacher Institute analysis. Gervais’ situation also in inconsistent with trends in the nation as a whole. According to the Guttmacher study, teen pregnancies have declined dramatically in the United States since their peak in the early 1990s, as have the births and abortions that result.

I’m drawn by this situation to revisit an earlier post about the perils and consequences of single motherhood in which I pointed out that single motherhood is a prescription for economic insecurity for many women.

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I cite this because, according to the Campaign for Our Children, Inc.,

  • Even though most teen mothers have expectations for marrying the father of their child, not even eight percent of unwed teen mothers are married to the baby’s father within one year of giving birth.
  • Teenage mothers have reduced chances of ever marrying compared to women who do not have children.
  • Teenage marriages are unstable; one-third of teenage marriages formed before the bride is 18 years old end in divorce within five years, and almost half dissolve within 10 years.

As the Single Parents Network says, “Children from homes run by teenage mothers have to face almost insurmountable obstacles in life.”

Single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families and a majority of America’s poor children live in single mother-led households, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the conservative Heritage Foundation says marriage is the greatest weapon against child poverty.

“Family disintegration, lack of education, and counterproductive welfare incentives all contribute to child poverty,” Heritage wrote recently. “Rebuilding a strong marriage culture should be at the forefront of our efforts to fight poverty.”

A New York Times story cited a number of studies that attributed the growing income gaps in American society to the changing structure of the typical family with the growing number of single parent families. The article suggested that changing marriage patterns could account for anywhere from 15-40% of growing income inequality across the country, with a surge in births outside of marriage among less educated women pushing single-parent families into the lower end of the socio-economic range.

Helping teenagers reach adulthood before having children will mean more children will grow up in families with healthy marriages, will improve the well-being of children and will strengthen society.

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Vote? Fuhgettaboutit

A bunch of folks won in Oregon’s May  20 primary elections, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy the enthusiastic support of Oregonians. In fact, far too often a small number of Oregonians are determining the winners and losers in Oregon politics. Only about one-third of registered voters bothered to vote in the May primaries.

And this doesn’t take into account the fact that significant numbers of eligible adults 18 years and older are not even registered to vote.

non_voters

In the hotly contested Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race against Jeff Merkley, candidate Monica Wehby captured 132,501 votes, 49.99 percent. That allowed her to overcome her principal challenger, Jason Conger, who pulled in 99,706 votes, 37.61 percent.

Wehby’s victory sounds impressive until you realize that there are 650,176 Oregonians registered as Republicans. That means Wehby won the primary with the votes of just 19.77 percent of registered Republicans. Those are the only people who can vote in Oregon’s Republican primary in the state’s closed primaries.

Votes in Washington County Commission races were similarly low. There are 284,138 registered voters in the county.For the nonpartisan Commissioner-at-large position, Andy Duyck won with 43,837 votes. That’s 15.4 percent of registered voters.

The fact is, despite Oregon’s much-vaunted vote-by-mail system, the May primary had one of Oregon’s lowest voter turnouts ever and turnout has been falling for years.

Why?

In races where there seems to be no real contest, motivating voters to turn out is damn hard. Jeff Merkley won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator with 271,344 votes, just 33 percent of registered Democrats.

In other cases, it’s hard to get excited when there truly is no contest. For example, in three Metro races the incumbent candidates, Carlotta Collette, Shirley Craddick and Kathryn Harrington, had no opponents.

In some cases the ideological split in a voting district is so unbalanced, with Democrats or Republicans firmly in control, that going to the polls if you’re in the minority seems like a total waste of time. A Republican in Multnomah County may feel that way as may eligible voters in most Congressional districts in the U.S. According to the Pew Research Center, political scientists and analysts disagree on why so few House districts are competitive; some blame gerrymandering, while others say the district maps reflect a politically polarized America where people are more likely to live among those who think like they do.

Then there are the races that just don’t engage voters, where few voters feel any connection to whoever wins and probably couldn’t even name the incumbent if asked.

Of course, Oregon’s closed primary system is also a guilty party. With 648,146 Oregonians registered as Nonpartisan (nonaffiliated, minor parties & others), a number that’s been growing steadily, none of them can vote in a Republican or Democratic primary.

There’s also the growing disenchantment with politics and politicians in general in Oregon and across the country. In Kentucky, for example, turnout was only 26 percent in a nationally covered intensely competitive primary between U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Matt Bevin.