America appears to be launching another baby boom. The 4,317,119 births recorded in 2007 were the most in the nation’s history.

But hold the celebratory cigars. A rising percentage of the newborns is coming from teenage girls and unmarried women –  not necessarily the best demographics for success.

Teenagers accounted for 42.5 of every 1,000 births, continuing an upward climb that began in 2005. A record four in 10 births were out of wedlock in 2007, according to the most recent U.S. statistics. Sadly, Florida exceeded national averages in both categories.

The teen birthrate is particularly alarming. Highest among the world’s developed nations, America’s teenage fecundity is taking a financial, educational and medical toll. Studies have shown that births to teens typically unmarried tend to result in higher welfare costs, lower scholastic attainment, diminished earning power and higher crime rates for both the mother and her offspring.

This vicious cycle is especially notable in minority communities. Hispanics, the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, have a teen birthrate of 81.7 per 1,000, nearly double the overall average. The teen birthrate for African Americans is similarly high.

Planned Parenthood estimates that teen pregnancy costs the United States at least $9 billion annually. Healthy Teens Florida figures that this state’s 354,000 teen births between 1991 and 2004 cost Floridians $8.1 billion in services ranging from Medicaid to child welfare, as well as lost revenue due to decreased earnings.

While the unmarried birthrate hovered around 4 percent during the 1950s the seedbed for the post-World War II Baby Boom generation today’s tenfold increase can create personal and societal burdens, experts say.

In the case of unwed teenage moms, research indicates that the majority of fathers are over 20 years old. So where is the criminal justice system? If Denise Harvey, a 40-year-old Vero Beach woman, can be sentenced to 30 years in prison for having sex with a teenage boy, the punishment and accountability for predatory inseminators should be at least proportional.

To make better decisions, more people must become educated about the tragic, long-term ill-effects of teen and single motherhood.

Editor’s Note: The editorial printed above appeared on April 7 in the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. It was reprinted here with permission from The Associated Press. The views expressed in the editorial are not necessarily those of the South Florida Times.

Photo: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year old daughter, Bristol, right, and her boyfriend, Levi Johnston, 18, left.