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California's Teen Birthrate Continues Steady Decline

February 10, 1999| From Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — California's teenage birthrate has fallen substantially for the sixth year in a row.

The birthrate among those 15 through 19 years old fell 8% in 1997, the most recent year for which figures are available. Births to teenagers have declined 22% since the trend was first detected in 1992, state health officials reported.

Among younger girls, ages 10 through 14, the birthrate fell 15.4%, the largest annual decrease ever reported.

Grantland Johnson, newly named by Gov. Gray Davis as health and human services secretary, credited programs developed by the state health department during the Wilson administration for the improvements.

Johnson noted that Davis has proposed in the new state budget a continuation of teenage pregnancy prevention programs.

They include:

* $135.9 million for family planning services to low-income Californians. (Now, the state spends $128 million.)

* $20 million in community college grants for locally organized programs to reduce teen pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births. (No change from current spending.)

* $8.5 million for a media campaign aimed at localized efforts to prevent teenage pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births. (Down from $9.3 million this year.)

* $3.7 million for a male responsibility program addressing the duty of men to prevent teenage pregnancies and raise awareness about the obligations of fatherhood. (Current spending: $2.9 million.)

The drop in births to teenage mothers in California reflects a national trend. Although California's teenage birthrate is higher than the national average, the figures are declining in California at three times the national average.

The decline in birthrates cut across ethnic groups in California. Birthrates fell 10.7% among white teenagers; 8.3% among Latinos; 4.5% among blacks; and 6.5% among Asian Americans.

Johnson said that despite the declines, the teenage birthrate is unacceptably high. "We still had 59,851 births to teenage mothers in our state [in 1997], a statistic that illustrates the enormous task before us," he said.

Birthrates still vary widely across the state. In Los Angeles County, the teenage birthrate is 64 per 1,000 girls 15 through 19 years old, compared with 35.2 per 1,000 in San Francisco.

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