Kansas has the fourth-highest teen birth rate in the country, and experts say it’s because of the large Latino population in the southwestern part of the state.
The trend is consistent with what’s happening nationwide.
While teen pregnancy rates are down 51 percent overall since its peak in 1990, Latina teens are still one-and-a-half times more likely to get pregnant than the national average and twice as likely to get pregnant as white teens. That’s roughly one-in-three Latinas who ends up pregnant by the time she is 20 years old.
Latinos are expected to comprise one-quarter of all teens in the U.S. by 2020, so this isn’t a trend we can ignore.
The problem is a familiar story: Latino immigrants, like those who make up many of the communities in southwestern Kansas, are more likely to work at jobs that don’t offer healthcare and don’t pay enough for them to buy their own, so they often lack access to basic family planning services and birth control.
On a more hopeful note, the rate of teen pregnancy for girls of color did drop more than that of white teens, and 60 percent for Latinas since 1990. “But these rates remain far, far higher than among whites,” says Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy. “And that needs our full and undivided attention. There’s a role for state and local efforts — and not all of it costs money.”
Albert says that we haven’t done a good job, as a nation, of informing young, disadvantaged women about the benefits of waiting to start a family.
In Kansas, for example, a bill was introduced in the state legislature this year that would require parental consent to teach sex education. If it passed, it would be detrimental to Latinas like those who live in southwestern Kansas.
Dr. Romina Barral, a specialist in adolescent medicine who’s been surveying Latino youth to understand why pregnancy rates are so high in that part of the state, says, “These are teens that are raised in a very conservative community. So basically they’re engaging in sexual behaviors without knowing exactly how to prevent their consequences.”
Adult Latinas can advocate for more comprehensive and scientifically accurate sex education in schools, and they can talk about the need for sex education among their own communities.