Single Mothers And Welfare
Jim Blair


The "America's war on kids" debate is a good example of confusing cause with effect, symptom with problem. To some, the problem is that neither no- skill jobs nor AFDC pay enough for single women to raise their children. The large number of children living in poverty/and or neglected is seen by some as a "problem" to be treated with larger AFDC payments.

Children in poverty and/or neglected in America is not a problem but a symptom: the problem is that women, primarily single women, bear children that they cannot afford, and try to raise them without a father.

The result is a generation of kids described in the earlier "Orphanages" thread as "totally screwed up". This is quite accurate and maybe even understated. But is it because they are poor? There are entire countries which are poorer and don't have this problem. During the Great Depression of the 1930's we didn't have this problem. Even facing the Depression and Jim Crow laws the illegitimacy rate in Black America was only 5% (about equal to the national level) until the Great Society programs started to pay single women to have babies in the 1960's.

NOTE: Since I wrote this, I have seen some dispute about this number. See the reviews of "The Truly Disadvantaged" and "Up From Conservatism" and the figure with it.

While in Grand Bahamas last year, a local ask me "is it really true that in America the government pays single girls to have babies?" He had heard this but couldn't believe it could be true. Well, yes, I had to reply. He just shook is head.

When I relayed this story to a Liberal friend, he said: No the government does not pay them TO have babies (that would be stupid). It only pays then IF they have babies. He seems to think this is a big distinction.

Scott Ferguson says we shouldn't make life worse for teen single mothers by "starving them". Two points here. According to TIME, Jan 16 1995 the main form of malnutrition among the poor in America is obesity from overeating; ours must be the first society in history where there is an INVERSE correlation between wealth and body weight. And does he suggest paying single teen age girls even more to have babies?

In human societies VALUES ARE TAUGHT BY PARENTS. (emphasis on the plural). And if a child doesn't have parentS? Or if the parents are too lazy/screwed to raise their kids properly? Then there is a problem. But in most cases it is lack of TWO parents with enough concern and commitment to their children to marry that is the problem. Dan Quayle was exactly right on this point (if on nothing else!) See the ATLANTIC MONTHLY, April,1993.

The problem is NOT due to a mother working: a recent Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty study found that having a mother who works actually helps children to stay in school and to do well in life. (they suggest she serves as a role model to provide a positive attitude towards work). See the book SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS: On the effects of Investments in Children by Barbara Wolfe and Robert Haveman on this point.

When I was learning chess I recorded a game moves and later showed it to a local Master (who could play 30 games at once and evaluate a situation at a glance). When I asked what to do in this position, his reply was: "you won't be a good player until you realize that you don't understand the problem: it is not what to do in this position. It is how do you avoid getting into this position".

We can hope that President Clinton will be able to see an obvious truth that the last two Presidents could not, because they were blinded by ideology. Namely: prevention is much more effective than treatment. One dollar spent on Norplant, or on funding abortion, will do more to reduce the number of children neglected and in poverty than thousands of dollars spent on AFDC.

ROUND II: replies to the replies

Poverty: Cause or result?

Several claim that kids are raised without fathers and are neglected because of poverty. I assume this is a reference to material depravation rather than a "poverty of the spirit", or some such metaphoric use of the word. Richard Clark is explicit on this point. "marriage is not the answer as long as men are not allowed to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty... and make less than in the 80's."

Are people poorer now than during the 1930's? I am still looking for an explanation of why, if poverty is the cause of the steep rise of fatherless and neglected children, the problem was much less during the Great Depression? Then, the birth rate was lower, largely because people waited until they could afford kids before they had them. This was the case for both white and black. And why is this problem much less in many, even most countries that are much poorer than the US? The average South Korean has much less in material goods, and a lower paying job than most poor Americans. But they get married before having children and then they provide for their children.

Isn't it just the reverse: 40% of kids live in poverty because they are raised by single unskilled women and don't have fathers. Isn't it this which causes them to be in poverty?

Raoul Golan makes a good point that people (today and in the US) think in terms of "relative poverty". They have more than 80% of the people on earth today, and more than 90% of the people who ever lived. But that is not enough. My favorite story on this is from USA TODAY last year. They interviewed a US Marine, who had grown up in inner-city Detroit. He said that he had always been told that he was living in poverty, and he believed it until he was sent to Somalia. Then he realized for the first time that he didn't even know what poverty was until he got there. Is America suffering from what I call the Baseball Players Syndrome (BPS)?

Isn't one parent as good as two?

I suggested in my earlier post that children should be raised by parentS (plural) and it is from the parents they are taught their values. "Am I implying that one parent kids have inferior values?" asked Richard Clark. I know one should try not to offend anyone, but the figures on this case are too conclusive not to point out.

If the little boy in the story were to say "But the Emperor has no clothes!" today, the ending would be different. Those on the Right would say "spank him! He is trying to undermine the civil authority". But those on the Left would say "send him to sensitivity training! He is trying to embarrass the emperor, and all of us who trust in him."

So I will say it: the statistics on kids raised by one parent are grim. They are a majority of the men in prison for violent crimes. They are over 80% of the juveniles in trouble with the law. The are most of the kids who drop out of school. I refer you to the Atlantic Monthly for April, 1991 and the article "Dan Quayle Was Right" by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. There is a lot of information there, but it is probably best summarized by sociologist David Popenoe who says:

"Social science research is almost never conclusive. There are always methodological difficulties and stones left unturned. Yet in three decades of work as a social scientist, I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two parent families are preferable to single-parent and stepfamilies."

This is just statistical correlation, and it does not apply to any one individual case. But if it is not cause and effect, someone offer another explanation. And I am sorry if some are offended by these figures.

But, some ask, what about Sweden and Norway? About half of the mothers there are single, and they don't have this problem (or at least not like as much as the US).

But a big difference here. At least for Sweden (and I assume Norway is similar). While many mothers are not married to the father of their kids (maybe because of the tax laws?), they live with them, and the fathers help raise the kids. Unlike the case in the US, where the father is unknown or out of the picture.

'Grinch' wrote:

Exactly right, and a point seldom noted.

Sweden changed it's tax and employment laws after WWII so that the legal status of being married became a lot less attractive and marriage much less popular -- but the two-parent family remained intact.

Over 90% of the babies born in Sweden go home from the hospital to a two-parent family, even though only about 50% of the mothers are married. And the big majority of those two-parent families are two-income families. This very big distiction between Swedish and US "single" mothers almost always goes overlooked when people throw about "married parent" statistics.

What About Fathers?

Dave Botteron and another (Cindy L. ) raised the question of Welfare Fathers.

There was an interesting case in Madison (even little Madison) last summer. A man was being sentenced to jail for robbery on the same day that one of his sons was being sentenced in the next courtroom (touching family scene) The reporter did a nice human interest story on it. Seems the father had 25 kids by 5 women (not married to any of them as you may have guessed- and paying nothing for any of them). Most of the kids over 18 were in various stages of trouble with the law. The legal history of the younger are not open to the public in Wisconsin.

When reading of this case, most reacted with "oh, he shouldn't do that." But from a bio-sociological perspective he is doing exactly the right thing: he should have as many kids as we are willing to support. He is acting on the information he is given. Maybe we need to change the message we are sending him.

And while I certainly don't want to imply any approval for irresponsible men, keep in mind that responsibility for having children is no longer equally shared by men and women, as it was before Roe vs Wade. Now the decision ("choice") is entirely with the woman. I support that, but it does have implications.

The Marriage Penalty

Brett Jon Kottman says marriage is the answer. Look on your IRS 1040 form. Two single people each get a $3,800 deduction. If they get married, they get only $6,350 between them: they lose $1,250 in deductions because they married. And the tax they pay is exactly the same on the first $22,750 of taxable income. At higher levels their tax is on their combined income which may put them in a higher bracket than either would be if single. Is there anyone out there who thinks this makes any sense?

I can remember when tax policies actually favored marriage. Back in the days when almost all kids were raised by couples who got married first, and were not penalized because of that.

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