South leads nation in single mothers

By Ed Brock

Dawn Murray said she's not surprised at all by the news that the South leads the nation in the number of unwed mothers.

As the founder of the “House of Dawn” shelter for teen-age mothers, Murray has been living with the trend for several years.

“I'm not surprised at all,” Murray said.

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released an analysis titled “Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the United States From the American Community Survey, 2000 to 2003.” The analysis focused on median age at first marriage, but it also revealed data that correlated some socioeconomic characteristics of the nation's mothers and birth rates.

One of the revelations of the study was that Southern states and the District of Columbia had the most number of unwed mothers. For example, in Mississippi's case 45.7 percent of all women having babies from 2000 to 2003 were single, a percentage outdone only by D.C.'s 53.4 percent. Louisiana trailed Mississippi with 40.2 percent.

In Georgia 32.7 percent of the new mothers in that time frame were unmarried and 10.07 percent were teens. The study also showed that, nationwide, one in every two unmarried mothers who had recently given birth were living below the poverty line. In Georgia 22.6 percent of the women surveyed who had given birth within a year of the study were living below the poverty line.

Many of those women collect benefits through the Women and Infant Children (WIC) program administered by the Georgia Department of Human Resources Division of Public Health. In Clayton County this year there were 11,890 WIC recipients, Public Health spokesman Todd Rose said.

Of those, 8,523, or 71.68 percent, are unmarried, Rose said.

The House of Dawn offers its services to young mothers in Clayton, Henry, Fulton and Spalding counties. Murray said there are several reasons why this trend continues.

“I think education is a major part of it,” Murray said.

Sex education needs to start at an early age, Murray said, before high school. And the South should follow the policy of other parts of the country of providing birth control education and material, such as condoms, to high school students.

“I think in the South they have tried to sweep it under the rug for a long time,” Murray said. “For a lot of these kids telling them to just say no and practice abstinence just doesn't work.”

The problem isn't limited to the poor, she added.

“We're seeing a lot of teens from very nice, two parent homes,” Murray said.