John McWhorter, always an iconoclast, argues that welfare reform addressed only half the problem-the women’s side. To finish the job, McWhorter says we’ve got to focus on the men:
“It is time to take on the other half of the task accomplished by welfare reform 10 years ago.In the late 1960s, welfare was transformed into an open-ended child care stipend. This was one part riot insurance and one part misguided societal engineering, but it had a grievous impact on black America, distracting struggling but stable communities into accepting dependency as ordinary. Since 1996, legions of the black women damaged by this have been brought into the work force. Their lives are far from perfect, but ever fewer black children live in poverty.
“Now the men stand out in sharper relief. They, too, are the product of neighborhoods where for 30 long years, working for a living was optional and two-parent families were exotic.”
The essay is interesting because it points out just how tolerant society has become of those who would once have been considered bums with illegitimate children.
Here is the lead:
“A year ago tomorrow, a 29-year-old black man was shot dead at a Crown Heights barbecue. Newspaper stories billed him as a ‘father of four,’ but he only worked part-time on and off. Nevertheless, interviews with his family revealed something that would flabbergast a poor black person of, say, 1940 brought into our times.Though recalled as a doting father to his children (by three mothers), the fact that he did not spend 40 hours a week providing for their food, clothing and shelter was, at best, a minor issue. In his community, his semi-employment (he was an ‘aspiring rapper’) was considered normal.
“This man was an example of a problem plaguing struggling black communities today: black men in their 20s and 30s who live disconnected from regular work. “Corner men,” they used to call them back in the day – but they were a marginal phenomenon, ‘characters.’ Snapshot statistic: in Indianapolis in 1960, 93% of black men were employed. Today, however, the ‘corner man’ is so common that there is no longer a special term for him.”