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  • Fathers disappear from households across America


    Big increase in single mothers.

    Nicole Hawkins‘ three daughters have matching glittery boots, but none has the same father. Each has uniquely colored ties in her hair, but none has a dad present in her life.

    As another single mother on Sumner Road decked her row-house stoop with Christmas lights and a plastic Santa, Ms. Hawkins recalled that her middle child’s father has never spent a holiday or birthday with her. In her neighborhood in Southeast Washington, 1 in 10 children live with both parents, and 84 percent live with only their mother

    In every state, the portion of families where children have two parents, rather than one, has dropped significantly over the past decade. Even as the country added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father, and nearly 5 million live without a mother. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.

    America is awash in poverty, crime, drugs and other problems, but more than perhaps anything else, it all comes down to this, said Vincent DiCaro, vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative: Deal with absent fathers, and the rest follows.

    People “look at a child in need, in poverty or failing in school, and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ But what we do is ask, ‘Why does that child need help in the first place?’ And the answer is often it’s because [the child lacks] a responsible and involved father,” he said.

    Dangerous spiral

    The spiral continues each year. Married couples with children have an average income of $80,000, compared with $24,000 for single mothers.

    “We have one class that thinks marriage and fatherhood is important, and another which doesn’t, and it’s causing that gap, income inequality, to get wider,” Mr. DiCaro said.

    The predilection among men to walk away from their babies is concentrated in the inner cities. In Baltimore, 38 percent of families have two parents, and in St. Louis the portion is 40 percent.

    The near-total absence of male role models has ripped a hole the size of half the population in urban areas.

    Tiny selfless deeds trickle in to fill that hole as the natural human desire for intimacy is fulfilled: One afternoon last week as a girl hoisted a half-eaten ice cream sandwich high over her pigtailed head, Larry McManus, the father of the girl’s sister, bent down to eat out of her hands as he picked up the girls from school.

    “I know dads that say they ain’t their kids. I see dads being disrespectful of the mothers. And I see ones who take other men’s kids to football games because they know their fathers aren’t around,” said Mr. McManus, an ex-felon who said he is “trying to make a lot of changes right now.”

    Asked his daughter’s age, he consults with her sister.

    “Five. She’s in pre-K,” the girl answered.

    “She’s 5,” he echoed. “Mmm, that was good,” he said gently of the ice cream sandwich. “Can I have another bite, please?” 

    Racial divide

    Though income is the primary predictor, the lack of live-in fathers also is overwhelmingly a black problem, regardless of poverty status, census data show. Among blacks, nearly 5 million children, or 54 percent, live with only their mother. Twelve percent of black families below the poverty line have two parents present, compared with 41 percent of impoverished Hispanic families and 32 percent of poor white families.

    The schism is most apparent in the District, which has a higher portion of two-parent families among whites, at 85 percent, and a lower share among blacks, at 25 percent, than any state.

    In all but 11 states, most black children do not live with both parents. In every state, 7 in 10 white children do. In all states but Rhode Island and Massachusetts, most Hispanic children do. In Wisconsin, 77 percent of white children and 61 percent of Hispanics live with both parents, compared with more than 25 percent of black children.

    “Something has to be done about it, and it starts with the culture and reversing the attitude that marriage is not important. The president has a role to play in that. He’s a married African-American father who can probably make a huge difference with words alone,” Mr. DiCaro said.

    But the move toward single-parent homes has included every race, and from Curtis Bay in Baltimore to Millcreek outside Salt Lake City to Vancouver, Wash., just north of Portland, there are 1,500 neighborhoods with substantial white populations where most white households lack fathers. Maine, Vermont and West Virginia have the lowest dual-parenthood rates for whites. 

    Southern Cross

    The decline has hit disproportionately in the South, which considers itself a bastion of traditional family values.

    Even in places where the percentage of the black population declined, single parenthood increased over the past decade, The Washington Times’ analysis of census data shows. In South Carolina, where the black share of the population fell by 2 percent, single parenthood rose by 5 percent. In Kentucky and Louisiana, where the black population was constant, single parenthood increased 6 percentage points.

    “In places you’d think values are at least talked about, they are not lived out necessarily. Education and income seem to trump them. The people who might not be preaching family values, like coastal upper-class communities, those are the people who are waiting to get married,” Mr. DiCaro said.

    The largest geographic area of sustained fatherless ness contains the rural, largely black poor across Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, tributaries of broken homes running 400 miles along the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tenn., where in some neighborhoods 82 percent of children live with their mothers alone, to Baton Rouge, La., in parts of which less than one-fifth of children have both parents at home.

    Black families differ from other racial groups in that the average black single mother has more children, not fewer, than her counterpart with a father present. Hispanic single mothers were most often dealing with the most mouths to feed but still had fewer children than their married counterparts. 

    To have and to hold

    Mr. DiCaro points to a desire among the poor to produce something.

    “When you have very little going for you in your life, having children can give purpose to it. If you’re married, you’re going to be much more cautious. There’s health care costs and our jobs, whereas if we were both just kind of doing whatever, then why not just have another kid?”

    Mr. McManus is quick to blame the absence of fathers to deaths or incarcerations, though women point out that many absent fathers live around the corner. Mr. McManus attributes that to the young age of many parents who are not ready to be “tied down.” He said women who need help with their children will seek the companionship of other men who they think can be father figures.

    Ms. Hawkins, the mother of three, lives with her youngest child’s father but considers herself a single parent.

    “When he’s home, he’s watching TV; it’s his time. I get no help. Financially, he’s been a good provider,” she said, even for the children who aren’t his. But “as far as being involved in activities, not so much.”

    Her relationship with her eldest child’s father ended over his refusal to support their offspring, and her second child’s father is in prison.

    “My oldest was raised by both parents, so it’s just selfish,” she said, but “my middle one, he wasn’t raised by either parent, so he doesn’t know how.”

    “We need more fatherhood initiatives,” she said, pointing to government- and nonprofit-funded programs at churches, prisons and community centers, such as those offered by Mr. DiCaro’s group, “so they can see what they’re missing.”

    Just then, her daughter Nadya picked up a tree branch and strummed it like a guitar, jumping up and down, all smiles. Ms. Hawkins reconsidered her thoughts on government programs.

    “Though to me, that’s the initiative right there,” she said. “You can talk till you’re blue in the face about how to do it; but ultimately, you just have to do it.”

    Read more »
  • The Consequences of Single Motherhood

    Children of single-parent families suffer measurable harm. But the problems of the family are far more complex than the popular debate often suggests.

    In 1992, when Dan Quayle condemned the television character Murphy Brown for giving birth out of wedlock, he reopened an old debate that quickly became highly polarized. Some people claimed that growing up in a fatherless home was the major cause of child poverty, delinquency, and school failure, while others denied that single motherhood had any harmful effects. And some objected even to discussing the topic for fear of stigmatizing single mothers and their children.

    Not talking about single motherhood is scarcely an option. More than half of the children born in 1994 will spend some or all of their childhood with only one parent, typically their mother. If current patterns hold, they will likely experience higher rates of poverty, school failure, and other problems as they grow up. The long-range consequences could have enormous implications.

    But what exactly are the consequences -- how large and concentrated among what groups? Do they depend on whether a single mother is widowed, divorced, or never married? Does public support for single mothers inadvertently increase the number of women who get divorced or choose to have a baby on their own?

    Many people hold strong opinions about these issues. For example, conservatives such as former Education Secretary William Bennett and Charles Murray, the author of Losing Ground, believe that single motherhood is so harmful and public support is so significant an inducement for unwed women to have babies that it is time to get tough with the mothers. Murray has even proposed denying unwed mothers child support payments from nonresident fathers. In Murray's eyes, the mothers are fully responsible for any children they bear in an age when contraceptives and abortion are freely available. Of the father Murray says: As far as I can tell, he has approximately the same causal responsibility as a slice of chocolate cake has in determining whether a woman gains weight.

    Meanwhile, some liberal critics see single mother as a codeword for "black, welfare mother." They view the focus on out-of-wedlock births and family breakup as an effort to divert public attention and social policy from overcoming racism and lack of opportunity. And then there are the feminists who regard Quayle's attack on Murphy Brown as a symbolic attack on the moral right of women to pursue careers and raise children on their own. So great are the passions aroused by the debate over the morality of single motherhood that a clear-eyed view of the consequences of single motherhood has been difficult. But to make any progress, we had best know what those are.

    Does Single Motherhood Harm Children?

    Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents (nearly always the mother) are disadvantaged across a broad array of outcomes.They are twice as likely to drop out of high school, 2.5 times as likely to become teen mothers, and 1.4 times as likely to be idle -- out of school and out of work -- as children who grow up with both parents. Children in one-parent families also have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, and poorer attendance records. As adults, they have higher rates of divorce. These patterns persist even after adjusting for differences in race, parents' education, number of siblings, and residential location.

    The evidence, however, does not show that family disruption is the principal cause of high school failure, poverty, and delinquency. While 19 percent of all children drop out of high school, the dropout rate for children in two-parent families is 13 percent. Thus, the dropout rate would be only 33 percent lower if all families had two parents and the children currently living with a single parent had the same dropout rates as children living with two parents -- a highly improbable assumption.

    The story is basically the same for the other measures of child well-being. If all children lived in two-parent families, teen motherhood and idleness would be less common, but the bulk of these problems would remain.

    The consequences of family disruption are not necessarily the same in all kinds of families. Some might suppose family disruption to have a larger effect on black and Hispanic children since on average they come from less advantaged backgrounds and their underlying risk of dropping out, becoming a teen mother, and being out of work is greater than that of whites. Alternatively, others might expect the effect of family disruption to be smaller on minority children because single mothers in black and Hispanic communities are more common, more widely accepted, and therefore perhaps provided more support from neighbors and kin.

    In our study, we found that family disruption has the most harmful effects among Hispanics and least among blacks. Family disruption increases the risk of school failure by 24 percentage points among Hispanics, 17 percentage points among whites, and 13 percentage points among blacks.

    A striking result emerges from comparisons of the percentage increases in risk. Family disruption raises the risk of dropping out 150 percent for the average white child, 100 percent for the average Hispanic child, and 76 percent for the average black child. Consequently, the dropout rate for the average white child in a single-parent family is substantially higher than the dropout rate of the average black child in a two-parent family and only two percentage points lower than the dropout rate of the average black child in a one-parent family. Thus, for the average white child, family disruption appears to eliminate much of the advantage associated with being white.

    Children from white middle-class families are not immune from the effects of family disruption. Consider the children of families where one parent has at least some college education. If the parents live apart, the probability that their children will drop out of high school rises by 11 percentage points. And for every child who actually drops out of school, there are likely to be three or four more whose performance is affected even though they manage to graduate.

    College performance may also suffer. The college graduation rate for white children from advantaged backgrounds is about 9 percentage points lower among children of disrupted families than among children of two-parent families (53 percent versus 62 percent). At the other end of the continuum, children from disadvantaged backgrounds (neither parent graduated from high school) have a bleak future, regardless of whether they live with one or both parents.

    Does Marriage Matter?

    Some of the current debate presumes that being born to unmarried parents is more harmful than experiencing parents' divorce and those children of divorced parents do better if their mother remarries. Our evidence suggests otherwise.

    Children born to unmarried parents are slightly more likely to drop out of school and become teen mothers than children born to married parents who divorce. But the difference is small compared to the difference between these two groups of children and children who grow up with both parents. What matters for children is not whether their parents are married when they are born, but whether their parents live together while the children are growing up.

    Children who grow up with widowed mothers, in contrast, fare better than children in other types of single-parent families, especially on measures of educational achievement. Higher income (due in part to more generous social polices toward widows), lower parental conflict, and other differences might explain this apparent anomaly.

    Remarriage is another instance where the conventional wisdom is wrong. Children of stepfamilies don't do better than children of mothers who never remarry. Despite significantly higher family income and the presence of two parents, the average child in a stepfamily has about the same chance of dropping out of high school as the average child in a one-parent family.

    Some people believe that single fathers are better able to cope with family responsibilities because they have considerably more income, on average, than the mothers. However, our evidence shows that children in single-father homes do just as poorly as children living with a single mother.

    What Accounts for Poor Outcomes?

    All of the numbers reported in the tables shown have been adjusted for differences in family background characteristics such as race, parents' education, family size, and place of residence. Thus the parents' socioeconomic status cannot explain why children from one-parent families are doing worse.

    Unfortunately, we cannot rule out the possibility that the gap stems from some unmeasured difference between one- and two-parent families, such as alcoholism, child abuse, or parental indifference. Only a true experiment could prove that family disruption is really causing children to drop out of school -- and no one is willing to assign kids randomly to families to answer these questions.

    Nevertheless, it is clear that parental breakup reduces children's access to important economic, parental, and community resources. The loss of those resources affects cognitive development and future opportunities. Thus the evidence strongly suggests that family disruption plays a causal role in lowering children's well-being. When parents live apart, children have less income because the family loses economies of scale and many nonresident fathers fail to pay child support. The average drop in income for white children whose parents separate during the child's adolescence is about $22,000 (in 1992 dollars) -- a loss of 40 percent. For black children, the decline is smaller -- about $9,000, a loss of 32 percent. In contrast, when a parent dies, children do not generally experience a major change in their standard of living. Social Security and life insurance help to make up the difference.

    Family disruption also reduces the time parents spend with children and the control they have over them. When parents live apart, children see their fathers a lot less. About 29 percent do not see them at all. Another 35 percent see them only on a weekly basis. Mothers often find their authority undermined by the separation and consequently have more difficulty controlling their children. One survey asked high school students whether their parents helped them with their school work and supervised their social activities. Students whose parents separated between the sophomore and senior years reported a loss of involvement and supervision compared to students whose parents stayed together.

    Family disruption also undermines children's access to community resources or what sociologist James Coleman calls social capital. Divorce and remarriage often precipitate moves out of a community, disrupting children's relationships with peers, teachers, and other adults. During middle childhood and early adolescence, a child in a stable family experiences, on average, 1.4 moves. The average child in a single-parent family experiences 2.7 moves; in a step-family, the average child experiences 3.4 moves.

    The graph on income and divorce shows how the loss of economic resources can account for differences between children in one- and two-parent families. The first bar shows the baseline difference between children whose parents divorced during adolescence and children whose parents remained married. The second and third bars show the difference, after adjusting for pre- and post-divorce income (income at age 12 and 17). Loss of economic resources accounts for about 50 percent of the disadvantages associated with single parenthood. Too little parental supervision and involvement and greater residential mobility account for most of the rest.

    Why Has Single Motherhood Increased?

    Changes in children's living arrangements result from long- standing trends in marriage, divorce, and fertility. Divorce rates in the United States have been going up since the turn of the century and have recently stabilized at very high levels. Out-of-wedlock birth rates have been going up gradually since at least the early 1940s. After 1960, the age of women at their first marriages began to rise, increasing the proportion of young women who might become unwed mothers. Together, these forces have fueled the growth of single parenthood during the postwar period.

    These trends exist in all western, industrialized countries. Divorce rates more than doubled in most countries between 1960 and 1990; in some they increased fourfold. Single parenthood also increased in nearly all western countries between 1970 and the late 1980s. Yet the U.S. has the highest prevalence of single-parent families, and it has experienced the largest increase between 1970 and 1990.

    In the view of Murray and other conservatives, welfare benefits in the United States have reduced the costs of single motherhood and discouraged young men and women from marrying. In some parts of the country, welfare may provide poor women with more economic security than marriage does. However, for three reasons, the argument that welfare caused the growth in single-parent families does not withstand scrutiny.

    • The trend in welfare benefits between 1960 and 1990 does not match the trend in single motherhood. Welfare and single motherhood both increased dramatically during the 1960s and early 1970s. After 1974, however, welfare benefits declined, but single motherhood continued to rise. The real value of the welfare benefit package (cash assistance plus food stamps) for a family of four with no other income fell from $10,133 in 1972 to $8,374 in 1980 and to $7,657 in 1992, a loss of 26 percent between 1972 and 1992 (in 1992 dollars).


    • Increases in welfare cannot explain why single motherhood grew among more advantaged women. Since 1960, divorce and single parenthood have grown among women with a college education, who are not likely to be motivated by the promise of a welfare check.


    • Welfare payments cannot explain why single motherhood is more common in the United States than in other industrialized countries. Nearly all the Western European countries have much more generous payments for single mothers than the U.S., yet the prevalence of single motherhood is lower in these countries. One way to compare the "costs" of single motherhood in different countries is to compare the poverty rates of single mothers with those of married mothers. While single mothers have higher poverty rates than married mothers in all industrialized countries, they are worst off in the United States.

    If welfare is not to blame, what is? Three factors seem to be primarily responsible.

    The first is the growing economic independence of women. Women who can support themselves outside marriage can be picky about when and whom they marry. They can leave bad marriages and they can afford to bear and raise children on their own. Thus single mothers will be more common in a society where women are more economically independent, all else being equal.

    American women have moved steadily toward economic independence throughout this century thanks to increased hourly wages, greater control over child-bearing and technological advances that reduce time required for housework. Since the turn of the century, each new generation of young women has entered the labor force in greater proportions and stayed at work longer. By 1970, over half of all American women were employed or looking for work; by 1990, nearly three quarters were doing so. The rise in welfare benefits during the 1950s and 1960s may have made poor women less dependent on men by providing them with an alternative source of economic support. However, welfare was only a small part of a much larger change that was enabling all women, rich and poor alike, to live more easily without a husband.

    A second factor in the growth of single motherhood is the decline in men's earning power relative to women's. After World War II and up through the early 1970s, both men and women benefited from a strong economy. While women were becoming more self-sufficient during the 1950s and 1960s, men's wages and employment opportunities were increasing as well. Consequently, while more women could afford to live alone, the economic payoff from marriage continued to rise. After 1970, however, the gender gap in earnings (women's earnings divided by men's earnings) began to narrow. In 1970, female workers earned 59 percent as much as male workers; by 1980, they earned 65 percent as much and by 1990 74 percent. (These numbers, which come from a study by Suzanne Bianchi to be published by the Russell Sage Foundation, are based on full-time workers between the ages of 25 and 34.) In just two short decades, the economic payoff from marriage had declined by 15 percentage points. Such reductions are likely to increase single motherhood.

    The narrowing of the wage gap occurred among adults from all social strata, but the source of the narrowing varied. Among those with a college education, men were doing well, but women were doing even better. Between 1980 and 1990, the earnings of college-educated women grew by 17 percent, while the earnings of college-educated men grew by only 5 percent. (Again, I am referring to full-time workers, aged 25 to 34). Thus, even though the benefits of marriage were declining, women still had much to gain from pooling resources with a man.

    The story was much bleaker at the other end of the educational ladder. Between 1970 and 1990, women's earnings stagnated and men's earnings slumped. Between 1980 and 1990, women with a high school degree experienced a 2 percent decline in earnings, while men with similar education experienced a 13 percent decline. This absolute loss in earnings particularly discouraged marriage by some low-skilled men who were no longer able to fulfill their breadwinner role. During the Clutch Plague, fathers who could not find work sometimes deserted their families as a way of coping with their sense of failure. Again, welfare may have played a part in making single motherhood more attractive than marriage for women with the least skills and education, but only because low-skilled men were having such a hard time and received so little help from government.

    The third factor in the growth of single motherhood was a shift in social norms and values during the 1960s that reduced the stigma associated with divorce and no marital childbearing. In the 1950s, if a young unmarried woman found herself pregnant, the father was expected to step forward and the couple was expected to marry. By the late 1980s, the revolution in sexual mores permitted young men and women to have intimate relationships and live together outside the bonds of legal marriage.

    Attitudes toward individual freedom also changed during the 1960s. The new individualism encouraged people to put personal fulfillment above family responsibility, to expect more from their intimate relationships and marriages, and to leave "bad" marriages if their expectations were not fulfilled. In the early 1960s, over half of all women surveyed agreed that "when there are children in the family, parents should stay together even if they don't get along." By the 1980s, only 20 percent held this view. Once sex and childbearing were "liberated" from marriage and women could support themselves, two of the most important incentives for marriage were gone. When the economic gains from marriage declined in the 1970s, it's not surprising that declines in marriage rates soon followed.

    Today, changes in social norms continue to influence the formation of families by making new generations of young adults less trustful of the institution of marriage. Many of the young people who are now having trouble finding and keeping a mate were born during the 1960s when divorce rates were rising. Many grew up in single-parent families or step-families. Given their own family history, these young people may find it easier to leave a bad relationship and to raise child alone than to make and keep a long-term commitment.

    Compared to the conservative argument that welfare causes single parenthood, these changes provide a more comprehensive and compelling explanation. They explain why single motherhood is more common in the United States than in other industrialized countries: American women are more economically independent than women in most other countries. For this reason alone, single-mother families should be more numerous in the U.S. In addition, low-skilled men in the U.S. are worse off relative to women than low-skilled men in other countries. American workers were the first to experience the economic dislocations brought about by De-industrialization and economic restructuring. Throughout the 1970s, unemployment rates were higher in the U.S. than in most of Europe, and wage rates fell more sharply here than elsewhere. During the 1980s, unemployment spread to other countries but with less dire consequences for men since unemployment benefits are more generous and coverage is more extensive.

    What Should We Do?

    Just as single motherhood has no single cause and no certain outcome, there is no simple solution or "quick fix" for the problems facing single mothers and their children. Strategies for helping these families, therefore, must include those aimed at preventing family breakup and sustaining family resources as well as those aimed at compensating children for the loss of parental time and income.

    Preventing Family Breakup and Economic Insecurity. Parents contemplating divorce need to be informed about the risks to their children if their marriage breaks up. However, it is not clear we can prevent family breakups by making the divorce laws more restrictive, as William Galston, now deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council advocates. Indeed, more restrictive divorce laws might have the opposite effect. Increasing numbers of young adults are living together and delaying marriage. Making divorce more difficult will only make marriage less attractive, relative to cohabitation.

    A better way to encourage marriage is to make sure that parents -- especially poor parents -- are not penalized when they do get married. Our current system of income transfers and taxation does just that.

    Health care and child care are two areas in which poor two-parent families receive less government help than well-off two-parent families and impoverished single-parent families. Most middle- and upper-income families receive tax-subsidized health insurance through their employers, and all single-mother families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) are eligible for Medicaid. The most likely to be uninsured are the working poor. If some variant of President Clinton's proposal for universal coverage is adopted by Congress, this problem will be eliminated.

    Similarly, middle-income and upper-income families can deduct child care expenses from their income taxes, while single mothers on welfare are eligible for government subsidized child care. Poor and near poor two-parent families receive virtually nothing in the way of government-subsidized help with child care because they pay no taxes. As part of its welfare reform proposal, the Clinton administration plans to substantially increase child care subsidies to families with incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty line. If passed, this change would greatly improve the current system and help equalize child care benefits for poor one- and two-parent families.

    As a result of Clinton's first budget, we now have a very good program, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), for subsidizing the earnings of low-wage workers with children. As of 1996, a two-parent family with two children and income below $28,000 will receive an additional 40 cents for every dollar earned up to a maximum of about $3,400 per year, which will reduce poverty and economic insecurity in two-parent families. Unfortunately, however, the EITC is an earnings subsidy rather than an employment program. Thus, while it can increase the wages of a poor working parent, it cannot help an unemployed parent find a job.

    While the Clinton welfare reform proposal seeks to provide jobs (or workfare) for single mothers on welfare, it offers little support for employment and training for nonresident fathers and none for parents in two-parent families. By making welfare a precondition for obtaining a public job (or job training), even the reformed welfare system would maintain a bias against two- parent families. The only way to get around this problem is to guarantee a minimum wage job to all parents who are willing to work, regardless of whether they live with their children.

    Increasing Economic Security for Single-Parent Families. Until recently, we have relied on judicial discretion and parental goodwill to enforce child support obligations. For children the consequences have been devastating. Through the law and other means, we must send an unequivocal message to nonresident fathers (or mothers) that they are expected to share their income with their children, regardless of whether they live with them. This means making sure that all children have a child support award (including children born outside marriage); that awards are adequate and indexed to changes in the nonresident parents' income; and that obligations are paid promptly.

    The Family Support Act of 1988 was a giant step toward redressing the failures of our child support system. It required states to increase efforts to establish paternity at birth, to develop standards for setting and updating awards, and to create mechanisms for withholding child support obligations from nonresident parents' earnings. Yet many states have been slow to carry out the Family Support Act. According to recent reports, the gap between what fathers could pay and actually do pay is about $34 billion. The Clinton administration has made child support enforcement a centerpiece of welfare reform. Besides streamlining procedures for identifying fathers and automatically withholding payments from wages, it requires states to enforce child support obligations for all single mothers as opposed to welfare mothers only. This is an excellent move because it helps to prevent poverty in the first place.

    Enforcing child support will not only increase the income of single mothers but also sends a strong message to men that if they father a child they become responsible for supporting that child for at least 18 years. This should make men more careful about engaging in unprotected sex and fathers more reluctant to divorce. My position is diametrically opposed to that of conservatives like Murray who argue that unwed mothers should get no support from the fathers of their children. Instead of getting tough on mothers, we should demand more of fathers. We have already tried tough love on the mothers: we cut welfare benefits by 26 percent between 1970 and 1990, and it didn't work.

    Requiring men to bear as much responsibility as women for an "unwanted" pregnancy is not such a radical idea. In fact, it resembles the system that used to prevail in this country before the 1960s, when young men did share the "cost" of an unintended pregnancy: they were expected to marry. The phrase "shotgun marriage" calls to mind a legendary threat the young woman's family might make.)

    A stricter child support system has its risks. Some people argue that nonresident fathers often are abusive and that forcing these men to pay child support may endanger mothers and children. But most men do not fall into this category. A majority of children should not be deprived of child support because a minority of fathers threatens abuse. Rather, strong steps should be taken to protect single mothers and children from abusive fathers.

    Other people object to enforcing child support for fear of overburdening poor fathers. While this problem has long been exaggerated -- many fathers can afford to provide much more child support than they now pay -- it is true that some fathers do not pay because they are unemployed or their wages are so low they can barely cover their own expenses. To help them support their children, nonresident parents -- like resident parents -- should be guaranteed a minimum-wage job. Those who find a private sector job (or a public non-guaranteed job) should be eligible for the earned income tax credit, even if they are not living with their child.

    Making nonresident fathers eligible for the EITC would require restructuring the program. Under the current rules, the benefits go to the household with the dependent child. Under a reformed system, the benefits would go to individuals, and both parents in a two-parent family would be eligible for a subsidy if their earnings were very low. This approach avoids penalizing poor parents who live together.

    The Clinton welfare reform proposal is a first step in the right direction. It acknowledges that government must not only ask more of nonresident fathers but help those who are trying to "play by the rules." Just how much the government will spend on this part of the new program, however, is unclear.

    Besides holding nonresident parents responsible for child support, resident parents should be responsible for raising their children and contributing to their economic support. Most single mothers are doing this already. Over 70 percent work at least part of the year and over 25 percent work full-time, year round. These numbers are virtually identical to those for married mothers. Although most single mothers work outside the home, a substantial minority depend entirely on welfare for their economic support. And a small percentage remains on welfare for as long as 18 or 20 years. The Clinton welfare reform proposal requires mothers on welfare to seek employment after their child is one year old (and sooner in some cases), and it offers them extensive services to find and keep a job.

    I agree with the general thrust of these proposals, at least in principle. Most married mothers prefer to work outside the home, and single mothers on welfare are likely to have the same aspirations. Over the long run, employment should increase a mother's earning power and self-esteem and make her less dependent on government.

    My major concern about the new proposals is that they reduce the amount of time mothers spend with their children. The loss of parental time could mean less parental involvement and supervision. The result will depend on how many hours the mother works, whether children are placed in good day care and after school programs, and the net income of the family, after deducting for child care and other work expenses. If children have less time with their mothers and their families have no more income, they are likely to be worse off under the new system. If they have less time with their mothers but good child care and more income, they are likely to be better off.

    The government should assure all children a minimum child support benefit, worth up to $2,000 per year for one child, to be paid by either the father or the government (see Irwin Garfinkel, "Bringing Fathers Back In: The Child Support Assurance Strategy," TAP, Spring 1992). The benefit should be conditional on having a court-ordered child support award, so that single mothers have an incentive to obtain an award, and it should be implemented in conjunction with automatic wage withholding so that fathers cannot shirk their responsibility.

    As yet, no state has carried out a guaranteed child support benefit. Such an experiment was nearly implemented in Wisconsin in the early 1980s but was aborted by a change in administration. New York State has been carrying out a version of the plan since 1989 with apparent success, but the program is limited to welfare-eligible mothers. The bipartisan National Commission on Children, headed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, recommended that the states experiment with a minimum child support benefit, and the Clinton welfare reform proposal contains a similar provision.

    Local governments and community organizations could also be doing more. For example, they could extend the school day or use school facilities to house extracurricular activities that would offset the loss of parental time and supervision. Mentor programs could also be used to connect children to the adult world.

    All these recommendations are driven by three underlying principles. The first is that something must be done immediately to reduce the economic insecurity of children in single-parent families. Low income is the single most important factor in accounting for the lower achievement of these children. Raising income, therefore, should be a major priority. The federal government has demonstrated considerable success in reducing the economic insecurity of the elderly. There is no reason why we cannot do the same for the young.

    A second principle is shared responsibility. The costs of raising children must be distributed more equally between men and women and between parents and non parents. At present mothers bear a disproportionate share of the costs of raising children. Fairness demands that fathers and society at large assume more responsibility.

    Third, and most important, programs for child care, health care, and income security should be universal -- available to all children and all parents. The problems facing single parents are not very different from the problems facing all parents. They are just more obvious and pressing. Universal programs avoid the dilemma of how to help children in one-parent families without creating economic incentives in favor of one-parent families. Universal programs also reinforce the idea that single motherhood is a risk shared by a majority of the population. Growing up with a single parent is not something that happens to other people and other people's children. It is something that can happen to us and our children's children.

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  • The Black Family in 1965 and Today

    The breakdown of the black family is a sensitive topic, though it's not new and it's not in dispute. President Barack Obama, who grew up with an absent father, often urges black men to be responsible parents.

    Nor is there any doubt that African-American children would be better off living with their married parents. Kids who grow up in households headed by a single mother are far more likely than others to be poor, quit school, get pregnant as teens and end up in jail.

    But these facts were once inflammatory. Fifty years ago next month, a Labor Department official named Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a paper titled, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," which argued that "a tangle of pathology" afflicting black communities had emerged because "the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling." His key fact: Nearly one-fourth of black babies were born to unwed mothers.

    He was accused of blaming the victim, but he was onto something important. Today, Moynihan, later a liberal Democratic senator, is invoked by conservatives to explain why African-Americans' progress has been so slow.

    Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, claims that "family structure offers a much more plausible explanation of these outcomes than does residual white racism." Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is more blunt. "The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family," he said last year. "White people don't force black people to have babies out of wedlock."

    They're right, up to a point. It's far from optimal for 72 percent of black children to be born out of wedlock. Social ills would diminish if there were more stable, two-parent black households.

    The problem with this line of thinking is that it's incomplete. Worse, it's often used to gloss over intractable realities that continue to hinder black progress.

    It's true that whites don't force blacks to have children out of wedlock. But it's wrong to suggest that whites bear no responsibility. Poverty is often the result of lack of access to good jobs or any jobs, and discrimination by employers didn't stop in 1965—and hasn't stopped yet.

    The impact of drug laws, and the harsher treatment black men get from the criminal justice system, means that many have records that scare employers away. But research indicates that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to get interviews than blacks without criminal records.

    A lot of the well-paid blue-collar jobs once abundant in cities have vanished. Moynihan lamented that unemployment had long been much higher for black men than for whites, and the gap is bigger today.

    Without decent jobs, these men are not likely to be able to find wives or support families. They are not likely to get married or stay married. If family breakdown causes poverty, poverty also causes family breakdown.

    African-Americans often find it hard to leave blighted neighborhoods. They can find themselves steered away from white communities by real estate agents or rejected by landlords. The Urban Institute reports a fact that ought to shock: "The average high-income black person lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the average low-income white person" (my emphasis).

    The concentration of poverty in inner cities means many black children are exposed daily to crime and violence. Their turbulent environment makes it harder for them to acquire habits of discipline and self-restraint.

    It's tempting to blame African-American social ills on the modern welfare state, which allegedly breeds idleness. But most poor black households are poor despite having at least one adult who works. The welfare reform of the 1990s, which induced many recipients to take jobs, didn't reverse the decline of marriage.

    Poor black neighborhoods are not the unassisted creation of poor black people, but largely the malignant result of factors beyond their control. These places generate a vicious cycle of poverty and dysfunction that mires children in desperate conditions. Then we wonder why many of these kids end up unemployed, addicted to drugs, behind bars or murdered.

    Moynihan's report contained a passage that conservatives rarely quote: "Three centuries of injustice have brought about deep-seated structural distortions in the life of the Negro American. ... The cycle can be broken only if these distortions are set right." He would be sorry to learn that we have yet to set them right, and that his insights are used to rationalize our failure.

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  • Child Support: Enslaving Black Men

    Last week, on my facebook page, A Sister asked me if I am “for” or “against” child support. I posted a picture, of a Black woman holding a wheelbarrow full of money, and the words above the picture said “Child Support, Way Better Than A Dad”, then I proceeded to answer the question. What I am “for” is choosing wisely when deciding to reproduce and deciding who will reproduce you. What I am “for” is adults being mature if the relationship ends so that the child won’t suffer, become molded in the bitterness of its mother, and caught in an emotional tug of war. What I am “against” is women hustling their wombs SPECIFICALLY for the sole purpose of collecting a child support check. What I am “against” is child support being limited or perceived as just financial assistance. Child support means to support your child mentally, emotionally, spiritually, being there for events, listening to them, encouraging them, showing them love and teaching them lessons so they won’t have to learn lessons in the streets.

    What I am “against” is Black Men not even given a chance to WILLINGLY give, contribute and add to the life of their child or children, before the Mother of his child (or children) runs down to the overseer to handcuff him with a child support order. I am “against” Brothers being violated in such a system that  was designed to destroy the Black Family and children being treated as assets and property of the Mother, with no regard to the Father.

    What I am “against” is the Bitter Mama Syndrome. Bitter because the relationship ended, the child’s first words are probably my daddy ain’t shyt because that’s what he hears all the time. I am “against” Mothers turning the hearts of the children AWAY from the father, because HER heart didn’t get what it wanted.

    I also understand that bitterness is NOT limited to JUST women, that men can become scorned and vengeful, and attempt to drag mothers through court as a means to be vindictive.

    I understand that not all women seek child support and maintain to the best of their ability. I understand that if you are on state assistance, the state will go after the father, and does not need your permission to do so. I understand that there are some women that are understanding of the financial climate for Black Men, and while that does not excuse a father from his obligation, the mother still helps facilitate a healthy relationship between the father and the child. I also understand that there are men that are not fulfilling their duty, but the Men that ARE, rarely get any airplay.

    What I am EMPHATICALLY against is the message in that picture. Some of us are of the warped mind frame that a child support is better than a father and that ALL a child needs is a check. I have posted a youtube video several times of a young lady rapping about how she is going to collect a child support check while rubbing her pregnant belly. I have spoken to young teenage Sisters with the career goal of being a Baby Mama, with a child support check as part of the benefit package. In short, if a judge wasn’t need while the seed was planted, then a judge isn’t needed to cultivate the seed.
    I see both sides of the coin.   I get it. A child needs to eat, be clothed and sheltered regardless; again does that absolve the father of his duty including finances? No. However in this financial climate, where the unemployment rate of Black Men is at an all-time high, and if the father has the desire, the will, and the sincere intentions to take care of his child but isn’t able to at the moment, could not his time be just as valuable? I would think that his time would be more valuable than the money.

    Let’s be honest here.  A single mother with children will always have more options than a single man. When I was single mother of two at the time, I was a recipient  of state assistance until I was able to get on my feet. I received food stamps and a childcare voucher, while I looked for work, until I was able to find a job. I have also worked for the State as a Food Stamp Worker, an Intake Specialist and a Children’s Medicaid Technician in two states, and while both had programs that would assist in job training or resume building for both genders, majority of the programs were geared towards Single Women. Even in public housing, in some cases a man couldn’t be in the home, and if he did, he couldn’t make over a certain income, combined with the Mother’s income or they wouldn’t qualify, so that was another way to lessen his role as “man of the house.”

    Again there are so many options for Single Mothers, but for a Single Man there are limited options. He will hear BE A MAN ABOUT IT! As if he is attempting to be anything else. Sometimes as women, I think that we have become desensitized to the pain and struggles that our Brothers go through. Now with MOST men, do you think they WANT to be shiftless? Do you think that not being able to provide for their family REALLY makes them feel good? Do you think that for most MEN being labeled as a dead beat dad is something they proudly wear like a badge of honor? I mean, let’s step out of our stilettos, and try to slide our feet into his shoes. 

    When a Black Man enters the world he has a bull eye on his back. Not only does he fight to against our common enemy, he has to also fight against his counterpart; i.e. The Black Woman.  I am not going to say that Black Men don’t have issues within themselves that effect our community, but with the Black Woman, it seems that we can’t even ADMIT that WE HAVE ISSUES as well, and that we have also contributed to the breakdown of the Black Family, and our most CONSISTENT, most EFFECT and MOST destructive contribution is what we first produce in our mental wombs, followed by what we produced in our physical wombs. 

    I normally don’t knock anyone’s hustle but this Child Support Hustle has GOT to end. To every woman that reads this article that comments or says to herself “Not everyone woman hustles her womb for child support payments, “you are correct. Now let’s take that same thinking and apply it towards Black Men. Not every Black Man negates his responsibilities. Not every Black Man leaves his seed to grow wild and uncultivated on its own. I am often asked why don’t  I  write about fatherless homes, or the faults and flaws of Black Men more often, and my response is the same: there are PLENTY of sites that tell a Black Men everything he ISN’T, I prefer to tell him everything he IS.

    To portray Black Men in a positive light would be too much like right to the masses, as the overall agenda is to make him appear trifling, doggish, immature and lazy, in other words an undesirable BEAST.  With all the controversy surrounding Basketball wives and shows of that nature, that portray Black Women a certain way, even though it does represent a spectrum of reality, why don’t we as women get up in arms when BLACK MEN are portrayed a certain way? You know why?

    Because we are STILL suffering from not only SELF-HATRED, but also HATRED of one another, and that’s why the womb has become  the most dangerous place for a black child to be, because in the womb is where he or she is taught to HATE their father. It is also in our wombs, were Black Men initially become prisoners of the Child Support Enforcement Agency. How many more children have to suffer? How many times are we going to go before a judge to instruct US on how to take care of a child that WE created? We love our slave master that much that we can’t make a move without him? When will we get tired of depending on a system that NEVER has and NEVER will have the best interest of the BLACK Family in mind?
    It’s time for a MUCH needed family reunion between the Black Man, the Black Woman, and Black children; we have been estranged long enough.

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    According to the modern-day civil-rights establishment, most of the problems that currently afflict African Americans result directly from the intractable white racism that allegedly continues to plague blacks in every region of the country -- across all age groups, all educational levels, and all income brackets. This civil-rights elite largely ignores the role of issues within the black community, such as the calamitous breakdown of the black family since the 1960s, in framing its critique.

    Economics professor Walter E. Williams writes: "According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children and 3 percent of white children were born to unwed mothers." In mid-1960s America, the nation's out-of-wedlock birth rate (which stood at 7.7 percent at the time) began a rapid and relentless climb across all demographic lines, a climb that would continue unabated until 1994, when the Welfare Reform Act helped put the brakes on that trend. Today the overall American illegitimacy rate is about 40.7 percent (29.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites). For blacks, it is about 72 percent—approximately three times the level of black illegitimacy that existed when the War on Poverty began in 1964.

    Illegitimacy is an important issue because it has a great influence on all statistical indicators of a population group’s progress or decline. In 1987, for the first time in the history of any American racial or ethnic group, the birth rate for unmarried black women surpassed that for married black women, and that trend continued uninterrupted until the passage of welfare reform. The black out-of-wedlock birth rates in some inner cities now exceed 80 percent, and most of those mothers are teens. Because unmarried teenage mothers—whatever their race—typically have no steady employment, nearly 80 percent of them apply for welfare benefits within five years after giving birth to their first child. No group can withstand such a wholesale collapse of its family structure without experiencing devastating social consequences.

    Father-absent families—black and white alike—generally occupy the bottom rung of our society’s economic ladder. Unwed mothers, regardless of their race, are four times more likely to live in poverty than the average American. Female-headed black families earn only 36 percent as much as two-parent black families, and female-headed white families earn just 46 percent as much as two-parent white families. Not only do unmarried mothers tend to earn relatively little, but their households are obviously limited to a single breadwinner—thus further widening the income gap between one-parent and two-parent families. Fully 85 percent of all black children in poverty live in single-parent, mother-child homes.

    While the overall black poverty rate remains about two-and-a-half times higher than the white poverty rate (24 percent vs. 10 percent), the “face” of black poverty has changed dramatically in recent decades. At one time, almost all black families were poor, regardless of whether one or both parents were present. Today, however, two-parent black families are rarely poor. Among black families where both the husband and wife work full-time, the current poverty rate is a mere 2 percent. Moreover, the relatively small (13 percent) income disparity between black and white two-parent families completely disappears when we take into account such factors as occupational choices, educational attainment, age, geographic location, and comparative skills.

    Children in single-parent households are raised not only with economic, but also social and psychological, disadvantages. For instance, they are four times as likely as children from intact families to be abused or neglected; much likelier to have trouble academically; twice as prone to drop out of school; three times more likely to have behavioral problems; much more apt to experience emotional disorders; far likelier to have a weak sense right and wrong; significantly less able to delay gratification and to control their violent or sexual impulses; two-and-a-half times likelier to be sexually active as teens; approximately twice as likely to conceive children out-of-wedlock when they are teens or young adults; and three times likelier to be on welfare when they reach adulthood.

    In addition, growing up without a father is a far better forecaster of a boy’s future criminality than either race or poverty. Regardless of race, 70 percent of all young people in state reform institutions were raised in fatherless homes, as were 60 percent of rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of long-term prison inmates. As Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector has noted, “Illegitimacy is a major factor in America's crime problem. Lack of married parents, rather than race or poverty, is the principal factor in the crime rate.”

    Since the black illegitimacy rate is so high, these pathologies plague blacks more than they affect any other demographic. “Even if white people were to become morally rejuvenated tomorrow,” writes black economist and professor Walter E. Williams, “it would do nothing for the problems plaguing a large segment of the black community. Illegitimacy, family breakdown, crime, and fraudulent education are devastating problems, but they are not civil rights problems.”

    The civil-rights establishment, however, paints a very different picture, characterizing such problems as nothing more than by-products of white racism. That view, through decades of constant repetition, has won the minds of many black Americans. “Instead of admitting that racism has declined,” observes Shelby Steele, “we [blacks] argue all the harder that it is still alive and more insidious than ever. We hold race up to shield us from what we do not want to see in ourselves.”

    It bears mention that the astronomical illegitimacy rate among African Americans is a relatively recent phenomenon. As late as 1950, black women nationwide were more likely to be married than white women, and only 9 percent of black families with children were headed by a single parent. In the 1950s, black children had a 52 percent chance of living with both their biological parents until age seventeen; by the 1980s those odds had dwindled to a mere 6 percent. In 1959, only 2 percent of black children were reared in households in which the mother never married; today that figure approaches 60 percent.

    The destruction of this stable black family was set in motion by the policies and teachings of the left, which for decades have encouraged blacks to view themselves as outcasts from a hostile American society; to identify themselves as perpetual victims who are entitled to compensatory privileges designed to “level the playing field” in a land where discrimination would otherwise run rampant; and to reject “white” norms and traditions as part and parcel of the “racist” culture that allegedly despises blacks. It is not inconceivable that one of those traditions which many blacks have chosen to abjure is the institution of marriage. In their landmark book America in Black and White, Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom make this profoundly important observation:

    “In the past three decades the proportion of intact married-couple families has declined precipitously even though the fraction of black women aged fifteen to forty-four who were divorced, separated, or widowed also went down.… It is thus not divorce but the failure to marry that has led to such a momentous change in black family patterns. The marriage rate for African Americans has plummeted in the past third of a century. In 1960 … [b]lack women were only a shade less likely to marry than white women.... Today a clear majority of African American women aged fifteen to forty-five have never been married, as compared with just a third of their white counterparts…. Many fewer black women are marrying, and yet they continue to have children—which was not the case in an earlier era.”


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