Nadya Suleman, mother of six plus eight children, is my hands-down winner of the "World's Worst Timing" award.
At virtually the exact instant that news hit the airwaves that Suleman through in virtro fertilization gave birth to illegitimate octuplets and thereby added eight more mouths to feed to her existing brood of six, California was locked in a budget crisis to eliminate $42 billion in debt.
After months of wrangling, Sacramento finally produced a tortured, temporary solution that involves deep cuts in services. But while Californians braced for reduced expenditures in education and higher taxes to off set the deficit, Suleman mothered her fourteenth child, all of who will be supported by taxpayer funds during their adolescence.
To give you an idea of your pending Suleman contribution, suppose that all her fourteen children graduate from K-12 public schools. Assume further that none need special classes but instead can be educated for the approximate $7,000 per pupil annual cost. Under those circumstances, the taxpayer bill for the young Sulemans' education alone will exceed $1.3 million.
But of course, your aggregate bill will be much higher. In fact, it's mounting as you read my column. The hospital where the octuplets will spend seven to 12 weeks has requested reimbursement from Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, for care of the premature babies. [Taxpayers May Have to Cover Octuplets Mom's Costs, by Shaya Tayefe Mohaher, Associated Press, February 11, 2009]
Readers angry with Suleman for her rash behavior don't have to apologize.
Two weeks ago in my column about the Lodi Unified School District's pending teacher layoffs, I reminded Lodians that for twenty years I have been urging people to consider the impact of immigration on the California's resources.
California is the second-most populous state in the Western Hemisphere, exceeded only by São Paulo State. More than 12 percent of U.S. citizens live in California and its population is greater than that of all but 34 countries, including Canada, the continent nation of Australia and Poland.
But there are significant differences in the countries I cited. The birth rates in Australia, Canada and Poland are respectively 1.7, 1.6 and 1.3 children per woman while California's continues above replacement level.
The harsh reality is California fertility rates are higher than in any developed country. Unlike many nations, neither California nor the United States has explicit policy goals regarding fertility, with the important exception of teen fertility.
Now I'll share the good news.
Teen birth rates have fallen rapidly in the United States and even more dramatically in California. By 2005, the state's teen birth rates were at all-time lows.
And regarding teen pregnancy, vigorous preventative programs have been hugely successful. According to the most recent data, California's teen birth rate has been lower than the national rate for the last six years. In 2004, California's rate was 38.1 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19, compared with the national rate of 41.2 per 1,000.
This is a great development for young women who can now live a normal teenage life. And it's a break for taxpayers, too.
Analysts calculate that teen births cost Californians $1.4 billion annually. This figure includes tax revenue costs on parents' income and consumption, public assistance, direct and administrative costs, such as welfare and medical assistance, costs for increased foster care placement, incarceration of children and children's increased likelihood to become teen parents themselves, with lower educational and career achievements.
But just as these positive developments took hold, along comes Suleman whose reckless approach to motherhood and disdain for California's societal crisis dominates the news for days. Little wonder that she's vilified.
But even the Suleman case may have a silver lining. Her scandalous behavior raised awareness as well as broadened the debate about prudent family size.
An intelligent conversation about population across a wide spectrum of Californians is long overdue.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.