NEW YORK POST
By MICHAEL GOODWIN
Last Updated: 3:16 AM, March 6, 2013
The numbers are staggering. Out of 120,000 live births in New York City in 2010, more than 54,000 babies were born out of wedlock.
The human toll behind the numbers is devastating. Children raised without two parents face much higher odds in every facet of life. It's as if they are forced to swim with one hand tied behind their backs. Some succeed, most don't.
Now comes the good news. Mayor Bloomberg is trying to do something about this preventable tragedy.
In a bid to further discourage teen pregnancies, City Hall is plastering a series of provocative ads on subways and bus shelters. With heart-rending shots of distressed children, the posters aim to shock boys and girls into thinking about the consequences of making babies too early in life.
"Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years," large text says next to one baby boy. A yellow slash serves as a footnote: "Think being a teen parent won't cost you? NY state law requires a parent to pay child support until a child is 21."
Another ad features a little girl who says, "Honestly Mom, chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?"
In smaller type, it adds, "90 percent of teen parents don't marry each other."
It is a bold program, in message and mere existence. Out-of-wedlock births represent a national epidemic, and the city's track record is worse. Like clockwork, about 45 percent of live births in the city are born to single mothers each year, against a national rate of 41 percent.
As I wrote in January when I learned the ad campaign was in the works, Bloomberg once rejected my suggestion that he tackle the problem by saying, "You know it's something we can't touch," presumably because of the racial implications. Nationally, 73 percent of black children are born to single mothers.
But the mayor decided he could touch the problem, and deserves praise for leading the way. Perhaps someone pointed out to him that being born out of wedlock is a greater handicap for children than having too many sugary drinks or even smoking.
Children with only one parent do worse in school, are more likely to commit crimes and be poor. They often pass the disadvantages to another generation by having their own children outside of marriage.
My only quibble with the ad campaign is that it focuses on teens, despite the fact that births by unmarried teen mothers represent only 12 percent of the out-of-wedlock total, or about 6,600 in 2010. Most come when the mother is between ages 20 and 29.
Yet with the posters so visible on mass transit, and with social-media efforts to come, it will be hard for any New Yorker to miss the message. That's fine with Robert Doar, the human-resources commissioner, who pushed for the campaign.
"The implications are similar in terms of the message we want to get out," Doar told me yesterday. "It's focused on those who are young, unmarried and out of work."
Indeed, the crux of the campaign is summed up in a poster that says, "If you finish high school, get a job and get married before having children, you have a 98% chance of not being in poverty."
Not incidentally, nearly 90 percent of teen births are covered by Medicaid or other programs funded by taxpayers.
Before it launched the ads, the city held focus groups to test the messages. One theme that emerged was that many teens had, as Doar put it, "a higher sense of confidence about their ability to be successful parents than the facts justified."
"We wanted to push back on that and expose the overconfidence," he said. "We want people to understand how hard and complicated it is in the long run."
This being a touchy-feely era, the children on posters are a Noah's ark of races and ethnicity. Although there is no mention of abortion, the city, in schools, clinics and through the 311 system, offers condoms, contraceptives and morning-after pills.
The ad campaign will cost about $350,000 and run for more than a month. It's probably too small for its effectiveness to be judged, so here's hoping Bloomberg will fund a follow-up.
One idea is to go straight at the advantage of marriage and get churches involved. Parents who get married are more likely to stay together than those who don't and, all other things being equal, that's far better for children.
Given the stakes, it's worth a try.