April 21 2014
President Obama has made “inequality” his second term cause. It is ironic then that his policies promote government dependence and that his party relies on the lopsided votes of unmarried women with children.
Most conservatives realize that the two-parent family can prepare a child to flourish in life—and thus avoid poverty—better than the single-parent family. Yet the president and his party resolutely refuse to build their supposed war on inequality on this truth.
The Wall Street Journal notes today:
Suppose a scientific conference on cancer prevention never addressed smoking, on the grounds that in a free society you can't change private behavior, and anyway, maybe the statistical relationships between smoking and cancer are really caused by some other third variable. Wouldn't some suspect that the scientists who raised these claims were driven by something—ideology, tobacco money—other than science?
Yet in the current discussions about increased inequality, few researchers, fewer reporters, and no one in the executive branch of government directly addresses what seems to be the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single-parent families during the past half century.
Coauthors Robert Maranto, a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and researcher Robert Couch put forward grim statistics. For example, more than 20 percent of kids brought up in single-parent households experience long-term poverty, while only 2 percent of kids from two-parent families live in poverty, according to education-policy analyst Mitch Pesrlstein’s 2011 book "From Family Collapse to America's Decline." Maranto and Couch cite a Brookings Institute study that found that the poverty rate would be 25 percent lower if our family structure were still that of 1970. A sociologist writing in the Journal Demography in 2006 estimated that 41% of the economic inequality generated between 1976-2000 can be tied to the decline of the two-parent family.
More recently, a team of researchers led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that communities with a high percentage of single-parent families are less likely to benefit from upward mobility. Maranto and Couch recall that, while the report—"Where Is the Land of Opportunity?"—was widely covered, the mainstream media tended to ignore the findings on the family, highlighting instead other aspects of the study. Indeed, the coauthors attend professional meetings at which inequality is the hot topic. They have been swept by the deluge of papers on the free-market as the root of inequality. The decline of the unions has also been designated as the cause. Single-family parenting? They report that they have not seen one paper presented on this topic as inequality gatherings.
Maranto and Couch continue:
Why isn't this matter at the center of policy discussions? There are at least three reasons. First, much of politics is less about what you are for than who you are against, as Jonathan Haidt, a New York University psychology professor, noted in his popular 2012 book "The Righteous Mind." And intellectual and cultural elites lean to the left. So, quite simply, very few professors or journalists, and fewer still who want foundation grants, want to be seen as siding with social conservatives, even if the evidence leads that way.
Second, family breakup has hit minority communities the hardest. So even bringing up the issue risks being charged with racism, a potential career-killer. The experience of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is a cautionary tale: Moynihan, who had a doctorate in sociology, served in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration as an assistant secretary of labor and in 1965 published a paper titled "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," warning about the long-term risk that single-parent households pose for black communities. He was attacked bitterly, and his academic reputation was tarnished for decades.
Finally, there is no quick fix. Welfare reform beginning in the mid-1990s offered only modest marriage incentives and has been insufficient to change entrenched cultural practices. The change must come from long-term societal transformation on this subject, led by political, educational and entertainment elites, similar to the decades-long movements against racism, sexism—and smoking.
But the first step is to acknowledge the problem.
If Republicans were smart (okay, okay, don't everybody yell at me at once!), they would turn the inequality debate on its head. The President's talk about inequality is the perfect opening for Repulicans to talk about something that really would help communities escape poverty: two-parent families.
It’s interesting that eventhe Shriver Report, the feminist manifesto put forward by the Center for American Progress and Maria Shriver, touches on family structure. But it glosses over the problem, moving quickly to calls for growing government, not putting a premium on marriage (and saying that having children out of wedlock is wrong).
President Obama and his party would much rather try to reduce inequality by government fiat. They would prefer programs that promote dependence rather than independence. I also suspect that there is another reason they aren’t willing to go all-in on two-parent families as the antidote to income-inequality: doing so would put the onus on individuals, their characters and virtues. But, when families succeeded, as the majority would, they would be able to utter sentiments that are anathema to the left: We built our own lives ourselves. We did this. We brought up our kids, and they are doing better than we are. Upward mobility, not class warfare, is the way to reduce income inequality.
President Obama and his party see the solutions in government and central control, not in traits nurtured in an intact family. This is a debate the Republicans could win. That doesn’t mean they will.