It is generally agreed that income inequality in the U.S. is bad and getting worse. Before we can address it effectively, we have to understand what is causing it. In this regard the Wall Street Journal had an article recently, “Ignoring an Inequality Culprit: Single-Parent Families”, by two scholars, Robert Maranto and Michael Crouch, from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.
Mr. Maranto and Mr. Crouch call attention to what they call “the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single parent families during the past half century. … In 1960, more than 76% of African-Americans and nearly 97% of whites were born to married couples. Today the percentage is 30% for blacks and 70% for whites. … This trend, coupled with high divorce rates, means that roughly 25% of American children now live in single-parent homes, twice the percentage in Europe (12%). Roughly a third of American children live apart from their fathers.” In addition, “more than 20% of children in single-parent families live in poverty long-term, compared with 2% of those raised in two parent families.” It is estimated “that 41% of the economic inequality created between 1976-2000 was the result of changed family structure.”
The authors wonder why there is not more public attention given to this depressing state of affairs and conclude that
- Intellectual and cultural elites lean to the left and it is primarily social conservatives who promote traditional family structure.
- Family breakup has hit minority communities the hardest. Therefore public discussion can be characterized as being racist.
- This is a very hard problem to solve. Marriage and childrearing involve highly personal choices which cannot be dictated by society.
In this regard, my March 11, 2014 post “A balanced and Sensible Antipoverty Program”, emphasizes the need to at least remove marriage penalties from government welfare policy.
As the authors conclude, “The first step is to acknowledge the problem.”