Since the national attention is on birth control, here's my idea: If we want to fight poverty, reduce violent crime and bring down our embarrassing drop-out rate, we should swap contraceptives for fluoride in Michigan's drinking water.
We've got a baby problem in Michigan. Too many babies are born to immature parents who don't have the skills to raise them, too many are delivered by poor women who can't afford them, and too many are fathered by sorry layabouts who spread their seed like dandelions and then wander away from the consequences.
Michigan's social problems and the huge costs attached to them won't recede until we embrace reproductive responsibility.
Last year, 43 percent of the babies born in Michigan were to single mothers. And even though Medicaid pays for birth control, half of the babies born here were to mothers on welfare. Eighteen percent were born to teenagers who already had at least one child. And nearly 1-in-5 new babies had mothers with no high school diploma.
In Michigan, poverty is as much a cultural problem as it is an economic one.
I spoke with an educator who is dealing with a single mother, mid-30s, with 12 children and a 13th on the way. The kids have an assortment of fathers with one thing in common — none married their mother. This woman's womb is a poverty factory.
It wouldn't matter if Michigan's economy were bursting with jobs, the woman and her children would still be poor.
Who's supporting these kids? If you're a taxpayer, you are. The roughly 45,000 children a year born onto the welfare rolls is a major reason Medicaid will consume 25 percent of next year's budget.
Those kids are more likely to grow up to be a strain on Corrections spending or welfare recipients themselves. And they'll drain money from the schools and universities that could help break this cycle.
In the 1990s, Michigan considered penalizing women who had more babies while on welfare, but pro-life groups killed the idea out of fear it would lead to more abortions.
Now, says state Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, the state is trying other measures, including attacking school truancy and the new four-year limit on welfare benefits, which she says is already increasing participation in work training programs.
"We are trying to get at generational poverty," she says. "We're studying positive incentives to change."
But she says the cultural breakdown is a strong tide to row against.
"We're watching marriage move from being part of the social fabric to being merely optional," says Corrigan, who devotes her personal time to working with disadvantaged children. "The kids I mentor don't know people who are married."
They do know people whose irresponsible behavior is being subsidized by their neighbors.
And as long as the taxpayers of Michigan keep paying for them, those babies will keep on coming.
Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News. His column appears on Thursdays and Sundays.