Among the welfarereform ideas the House Republican leadership has put forth is a proposal to deny welfare benefits to mothers under 18. Unsurprisingly, advocates have blasted the proposal as not just harsh but ineffective. Says David Liederman, executive director of the Child Welfare League of America, "It's all based on a false assumption...that money drives whether or not the young woman has a child. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Liederman is right that underclass teenagers don't as a rule have babies in order to get on welfare. But the relationship between welfare and teen pregnancy may be profound even if indirect. Underclass teens' own mothers, after all, frequently accept or even approve of their daughters' early unwed pregnancy. That could well change if the girls lost their eligibility for welfare. The mother would know she would have to support and very likely raise a grandchild if her daughter gave birth before becoming selfsufficient. Faced with such a hardship, underclass adults might well become more vigilant about the prospect of their daughters' having a baby.
House Republicans, however, go too far in proposing a nationwide ban on welfare for teen mothers. We don't know whether this approach would work or would have baleful unintended consequences instead. Some experimentation is in order before we leap. (See "Welfare Reform and Character Development," page 56.)