A nonprofit group released a report yesterday that says the problem of teen-age childbearing worsened in Baltimore during the 1990s, bucking a trend that saw improvements in most cities nationally.
The study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says that by 1999, Baltimore ranked worst among the largest 50 American cities in percentage of babies born to teen-agers, percentage of babies born to unmarried women and percentage of low-birth-weight babies.
The conclusions of the report, "The Right Start," contrast with the findings of the city's Health Department, which has reported several times that the city's health picture improved during the decade and that fewer teen-agers were getting pregnant.
Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, criticized the Casey Foundation report yesterday, saying it used misleading statistics that fail to take into account the large number of middle-class mothers moving out of the city.
The flight of women in their 20s and 30s to the suburbs makes the percentages look worse for the city, but that doesn't mean the teen-agers left behind are behaving worse, Beilenson said.
Beilenson said his calculations indicate that the percentage of teen-agers having children dropped by more than 20 points during the 1990s.
Teens are 'doing better'
"Our teen-agers are doing much better with contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, and that is completely masked by their misleading statistics," said Beilenson.
William O'Hare, a demographer who is director of the Kids Count program at the Casey Foundation, agreed that his numbers did not take into account the flight of many women of childbearing age to the suburbs.
But he said he used the best statistics available for the nation's 50 largest cities and added that those numbers point to problems that Baltimore should not ignore.
'Going the wrong way'
"The economic opportunities that improved many things in cities nationally during the 1990s didn't appear to reach the neighborhoods of Baltimore," said O'Hare. "Baltimore was going the wrong way during the decade."
The percentage of babies born to teen-agers in the city rose from 20.9 in 1990 to 22.4 in 1999, according to his report. The trend in the 50 largest cities was the opposite of that, with 15.4 percent of babies born to teens in 1990 and 14.3 percent in 1999.
The Baltimore Health Department, which uses different methods and statistics, says that in 1991, 11.7 percent of teen-agers in the city had babies, the agency says. In 2000, the agency says, 9.4 percent of teens gave birth.
The Casey Foundation report said the percentage of babies born to unmarried women rose 17 percent in the city during the 1990s, rising from 59.1 percent in 1990 to 69.4 percent in 1999. That compared with 40.8 percent of babies born to unmarried women in the 50 largest American cities in 1990 and 43.5 percent in those cities in 1999, the Casey report says.
The percentage of babies born with low birth weights rose in Baltimore from 12.6 percent in 1990 to 14.7 percent in 1999. Nationally, the numbers also rose slightly, from 8.6 percent in 1990 to 8.8 percent in 1999.