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Programmed for Failure

from the magazine

Programmed for Failure

Winter 1995
The Social Order

A recent study of an effort to reduce teen pregnancy shows just how elusive that goal is. New Chance, a program that enrolled teen moms in ten states, spent an average of more than $9,000 per client on "employability development classes," "personal development services," and "family planning services" for 18 months.

The result was dismal. By the program's end, 57 percent of the girls had gotten pregnant again, compared with 53 percent in a control group. This outcome is typical: of four recent teen pregnancy programs, none delayed repeat childbearing; in at least three, births to participants exceeded births to the control group. The reading skills, incidence of depression, drug use, and childrearing practices of New Chance's experimental and control groups were identical. The only bright sign: 37 percent of the New Chance mothers had earned a high school equivalency diploma, versus 21 percent of the control group.

Proponents of government social services respond to such discouraging results by changing the subject. Robert Granger of the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (which developed and analyzed New Chance), has said that the program's failure merely demonstrates that the government needs a more aggressive economic policy: "If the only kind of job you can get pays $4 an hour, this program will never succeed." But paying teens $7 rather than $4 an hour will not instill a sense of personal responsibility. Teaching selfcontrol, has for generations been the province of the family; there is still no reason to think that governmentsponsored programs can do it.

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