Four states and the District of Columbia have bucked the national trend and are reporting dips in their rates of births to unmarried mothers, the Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday.
While the percentage of out-of-wedlock births in the nation as a whole climbed slightly for the two years from 1997 to 1998, it fell in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and the District of Columbia. Those five jurisdictions will share a $100 million federal bonus, an award created by Congress as part of the 1996 law that overhauled the nation's welfare system. Each will receive $20 million.
To determine the victors, the Department of Health and Human Services compared each state's proportion of illegitimate births over the two years from 1995-96 to its ratio in 1997-98. This year's winners and Oregon were the only states to show improvement. The birth rates for unmarried women rose in every other state.
More than 32 out of every 100 births in the United States are to single women. The issue has become a top concern of the federal government because children born out-of-wedlock are much more likely to be poor than children of married couples.
Now in its second year, the bonus competition among the states reveals how difficult it is for the government to ensure that more babies are born into two-parent families. Three of this year's winners, Alabama, Michigan and the District of Columbia, also received bonus money last year, but two other 1999 winners were not eligible.
California, a 1999 award recipient, fell to 28th this year, with a rise of more than three percent in the proportion of births to unmarried women. Massachusetts, also a 1999 winner, fell to 16th. Its percentage of out-of-wedlock births rose 1.8 percent.
The District showed the largest decline -- more than four percent. Arizona and Michigan followed, with drops of 1.38 percent and 1.33 percent respectively.
The worst performers were: South Dakota, with an increase in out-of-wedlock births of 9.8 percent; North Dakota, with an 8.9 percent jump; Montana, 7.9 percent; Oklahoma, 6.9 percent and Maine, 6.6 percent.
To be eligible for the award money, the states must also prove that the birth decline did not result from a higher abortion rate. They must show a drop in the percentage of abortions.