Birth numbers tell scary tale

Statistics show that family disintegration and poverty go hand in hand.

The subject of income disparity — the gap between the very poor and the very rich — was a staple of debate this past election year. Witness all the rhetoric, much of it unhelpful, as it related to the relative prospects of the "98 percent" compared to the "2 percent" or the so-called "makers and takers."

It's an important topic of concern, one government ought not ignore in its efforts to create more and better opportunities for those trying to climb the ladder of success.

But culture also plays a role in laying the groundwork for upward mobility, and recent statistics reveal just how difficult it is now and will be in the future for many of those at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder to move up.

According to The Washington Times, 15 million children — one in three — live in homes without a father. That number represents a dramatic increase since 1960, when just 11 percent of children lived in homes without fathers.

The correlation between single-parent and two-parent homes and living standards is unmistakable. As the number of children living without a father in the home goes up, so do poverty rates.

Married couples with children have an average annual income of $80,000 compared with an average annual income of $24,000 for single mothers, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. As the rate of out-of-wedlock birth increases, "it's causing that gap, income inequality, to get wider," said Vincent DiCaro, vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

Indeed, the relationship between a married couple having children compared to out-of-wedlock births is so stark that Robert Rector, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, argues that "marriage is a powerful weapon in fighting poverty."

"Some of this difference in poverty is due to the fact that single parents tend to have less education than married couples, but even when married couples are compared to single parents with the same level of education, the married poverty rate will still be more than 75 percent lower. ...In fact, being married has the same effect in reducing poverty that adding five to six years to a parent's level of education has," Rector reports.

Out-of-wedlock births in this country were a relatively rare phenomenon until the 1960s, when the numbers started to increase. In 1964, when President Johnson launched his War on Poverty, 93 percent of children were born to married couples. Fifty years later, in 2010, just 59 percent of births were to married couples.

Decades ago, out-of-wedlock births were dominated by teen-age girls, 50 percent in 1970. Now teens account for 23 percent of non-marital births, with the rest born to adult women who should be more conscious of the consequences.

But are they really? A host of negative pathologies, of which poverty is just one, are associated with children who grow up in single-parent households. It would seem that few who really understand the consequences would act with such cavalier regard for their futures.

This discussion, of course, is nothing new, and those who raise it exact a sometimes angry response.

Former presidential adviser Patrick Moynihan, later a U.S. senator from New York, was vilified in the 1960s when he authored a study that documented the threat posed to the black family by out-of-wedlock births. Nearly 30 years later, scorn and ridicule were heaped on then-Vice President Dan Quayle when he had the temerity to suggest that television shows glamorizing out-of-wedlock births sent a dangerous social message.

Since then, the problem, and the consequent suffering of children, has only grown worse.

It's unfortunate that some people mistakenly interpret factual discussions of the consequences of out-of-wedlock births as personal attacks on overwhelmed single mothers. They are not. Instead, they are warnings both to individuals and society as a whole of what the future might hold for those who take on the enormous responsibilities of parenthood alone.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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