Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Welfare State and Single Parenting

How the government encourages people not to marry in spite of the fact that most women still want a husband. To quote:
Adults in single-parent families, usually women, are more likely to have health trouble. They're more likely to be abused by boyfriends. They're more likely to be poor, jobless, with little education. Their children are more likely to do poorly in school, to drink, to take drugs, to be abused, to be poor as adults.
So lots of research goes into getting people not to have children outside of marriage. This isn't easy. Welfare reform did a splendid job of getting poor adults, mainly women, to go to work. It hasn't done much of anything about illegitimacy. About 41% of all births nationally are to unmarried women - the figure is 72% for African-American women, and it's been rising relentlessly for years for practically everyone.

Incidentally, this isn't because people don't want to marry. Cynthia Osborne, a University of Texas researcher who'd worked on a key study of "fragile families," pointed out that of single mothers giving birth, 51% were living with the baby's dad and another 32% were still his romantic flame. Researchers asked whether they planned to marry each other; 78% of the cohabiting couples said yes. Only 15% ever did marry.
It's not for lack of will, say researchers. It's that young people - especially those raised by single mothers - lack the skills. These are teachable, say experts, if society makes a point of it.But will we? That's the harder question. Does our society want to change itself to make a point of it - to push marriage?

Some of it is policy. Blankenhorn pointed out how many young, poor men commit crimes and end up imprisoned. Society's response to crime, while rational, has a cost, making many young men hard to employ and, so, bad prospects for marriage. Preventing criminality or doing better post-prison rehab - things nongovernmental institutions, such as churches, can start right now - could prevent single-mother misery.
Some of it is culture. Jason Turner, who shaped W-2 under Tommy Thompson, cited the old Motion Picture Production Code, usually remembered as puritanical rules that barred cursing and bared breasts. One of its strictures was that movies shouldn't portray adultery as "right and permissible." That's all history now, no one favors censorship and the code vanished because the culture that saw adultery as always wrong and impermissible changed.

But if culture changed, can we not talk about trying to change it again - especially since we now see just what effect a more permissive era has on children? The issue isn't just how young, low-income people think about marriage, said Blankenhorn. "It's how we" - all of us in society - "think about marriage."

It isn't religion or traditionalism that demands society rethink the kinds of messages our altered cultural norms send, he said. It's the practical fact that the fade-out of marriage, the most effective means of bonding fathers to mothers, has left increasing numbers of children immiserated.

And it isn't government that can restore it. Our culture changes only if a lot of us undertake the hard work of changing our minds. (Read entire article.)

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