On December 13, Reverend Pat Robertson attributed a recent significant decline in the number of teenage girls having sex to “the welfare reform bill.” During the news segment of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, host and Christian Coalition of America founder Robertson stated that prior to the passage of the 1996 federal welfare reform act, “young teenage girls from poor families, essentially black families, thought that they had a duty to have babies in order to get on the welfare rolls because each baby was being paid two or three hundred dollars a month or more.” Robertson was responding to a report by CBN News anchor Lee Webb on a recent government survey by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which showed that the number of teenage girls having sex declined from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002. But Robertson's explanation for the decline, which relies upon the unfounded and racially charged stereotype of the “welfare queen,” is not supported by the facts.
An April 24 U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Democratic issue brief flatly rejected the assertion that the decline in teen pregnancy is attributable to the 1996 changes in welfare law. The brief noted that according to National Vital Statistics Reports by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “teen birth rates started to fall well before the federal welfare act was being implemented by states in late 1996 and in 1997 and that the rate of decline was continuous and similar throughout the entire time period after 1991 [through 2002]” (as depicted in “Chart 1” of the brief). The brief went on to note that “for these and other reasons, federal welfare reform does not appear to have influenced the decline in teen birth rates to any significant degree.”
In addition, the “welfare queen” stereotype that Robertson referenced, claiming that poor teenage girls had babies in order to get welfare payments prior to the 1996 federal welfare law, is an unfounded smear perpetuated by former President Ronald Reagan, among others, that has long since been debunked. A June 26, 1995, Orlando Sentinel article, which defined “welfare queen” as the idea of “lazy women having babies for federal checks,” debunked the myth of the “welfare queen,” pointing out: “Since 1970 the number of children in the average welfare family has declined from three to two.” A June 11, 1998, Boston Globe editorial noted: “For years citizens were treated to visions of welfare queens -- lazy women who fraudulently drained the nation's wealth. Their abuses were chronicled by skilled storytellers, including Ronald Reagan, who ultimately had to back away from a tale that turned out to be less than true.” An October 15, 2000, New York Times article referred to “Reagan's apocryphal stories about welfare queens driving Cadillacs.”
After Webb reported findings on teenage girls from the NCHS survey, the following exchange took place on the December 13 edition of The 700 Club:
WEBB: Pat, how do you account for this drop [in the number of teen girls having sex]?
ROBERTSON: I would like us to understand what the welfare reform bill did, you know. There was a time when young teenage girls from poor families, essentially black families, thought that they had a duty to have babies in order to get on the welfare rolls because each baby was being paid two or three hundred dollars a month or more, and so they'd help support the family that way. I think when the rewards of that program were taken away, I think that a lot of them said, “This isn't worth it. I'm not going to do that.” Now maybe education has helped, maybe sex education has helped -- I don't know, maybe abstinence programs have helped. But something's doing it.