West Virginia's teen birth rate is embarrassingly high, higher than the national average, right?
Absolutely. If you look at a national map from Kids Count's most recent report, West Virginia stands out in red, in company with some of the deep South and Southwest, surrounded by states with lower rates of teen pregnancy.
But it hasn't always been this way. As recently as 2000, West Virginia's teen birth rate was slightly lower than the national rate.
And if you look more closely at individual counties, a whole other story appears. Nationally, 34 teens out of every 1,000 females age 15 to 19 had babies in 2010. In West Virginia, the rate was 45.
But 11 counties are below the national average. Monongalia is lowest at 14, followed by Gilmer, Brooke, Pleasants, Pendleton, Upshur, Hancock, Jefferson, Tucker, Putnam and Ohio, at 36.
Above the national rate, but not by much, are Morgan, Pocahontas, Marion and Doddridge.
The counties that drag West Virginia into the red category on the map are Logan, 62.83; Mercer, 65.69; Calhoun, 66.56; Fayette, 68.32; Boone, 70.48; Clay, 71.2; Mingo, 79.45; and McDowell, 95.76. McDowell's teen birth rate is almost one in 10.
What is going on there?
"They're poor," says Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count, which produced the report "Teen Pregnancy in West Virginia: The Numbers and What We Can Do."
"It's like another state."
"What's so serious if you grow up in an area of concentrated poverty is you may not have a sense of yourself in the future," Hale said.
Many young people who grow up in lifelong poverty, where everyone and everything around them is poor, do not walk around with thoughts in their heads such as, "I'm going to be a nurse," or "I'm going to finish high school," Hale said.
They lack not only career goals, but also a sense of themselves beyond the current day. "That leads to risky behavior."
To make a difference, Kids Count recommends fully implementing the state's good, comprehensive sex education curriculum.