Several years ago, New York author Malcomb Gladwell wrote a best-selling book, The Tipping Point, which essentially described how sometimes one single action or event can lead a person, business, or even a country from passivity to dynamic action and resolution.
The recent Dougherty County School Board discussion addressing the accommodation of teen-aged mothers to breastfeed their babies while at school (at taxpayer expense), is perhaps one of those outrageous signals or events that should create such a “tipping point” for Dougherty County’s citizens and leadership.
It is a golden opportunity for the leaders of this community to step up to the plate, stop looking around in different directions for answers or to follow what some other city or county is doing, and pursue a creative solution to a multifaceted problem that plagues nearly every poverty-ridden community, that is “babies having babies”.
In 2008, the Georgia County Guide reports approximately 1,100 babies were birthed in Dougherty County to unwed mothers (we still lead the state, by the way!), some as young as 12 years old. If each baby is of normal birth weight (2,500 grams), it might cost the community and healthcare provider $15,000 just in delivery costs for each baby. If the mother is on cocaine, meth, or other drugs at delivery (a common occurrence), the cost of delivery and detoxification of the baby can surpass $100,000 each.
Citizens of Albany, these staggering numbers are just the beginning of the financial burden this reckless behavior places on taxpayers and healthcare providers. Add to this astounding delivery cost (over $20 million per year conservatively), the cost of Medicaid (for mother and baby), a life of welfare and food stamps for both, and a 70% probability that the male babies will end up in jail before age 19, notwithstanding the burden of the cost of the criminal justice system (courts, county jail, indigent defense fund, etc.), and it becomes clear why Albany-Dougherty County is slipping into the abyss of a perpetual poverty zone, a failed education system, and a community that statistically might repel any responsible business or entity from locating here.
It is time for civic leaders to take charge and stop incentivizing unwed teenagers to have more babies, perpetuating this cycle of poverty, crime, and failed education, all of which falls on the backs of taxpayers.
There is a solution; however, it requires leadership to accomplish it. For example, consider offering the mothers of these at-risk teenage girls a financial incentive (say $5,000 each) to avail themselves of an available three- or five-year contraceptive implant when their daughters reach childbearing age. At each three or five year replacement interval, a $5,000 incentive is again paid to the parent.
For each month the child does not become pregnant, the county (or city) credits her with a $100 per month scholarship fund until she graduates from high school, at which time she can access the money for college or technical training.
The cost of this program is likely less than 10 percent of the total cost of Medicaid, welfare, crime, court costs, etc. that we now endure, yet might actually create responsible, educated, self-reliant (taxpaying) citizens, rescuing them from the endless cycle of poverty and crime.
I applaud the non-profit and volunteer groups who work tirelessly to “rescue” people from this subculture of poverty our system has created; however, until we stop the baby mills and the government incentives that have created them; we are dipping water from a sinking ship with a teaspoon.
So to our civic, healthcare, and government leaders, it may be time to recognize this “tipping point”, step up to the plate, lead, and let other communities (even the state of Georgia) follow us in this creative solution that might become a win-win event, for not only the teenage girls, who might now have a future, but for the taxpaying public as well.
Albany resident Richard R. Thomas is president of Corporate & Estate Analysts Inc.