D. Dowd Muska


The Issue That Won’t Be Debated in 2012

October 13, 2011

Indiana’s governor granted an interview to POLITICO earlier this month, and in 10 words, spoke a truth that neither the president nor his Republican opponent will explore -- or even mention -- in 2012.

“What’s a common and accepted practice for Americans nowadays,” the website asked Mitch Daniels, “that you think we’ll look back on with regret?”

Answer: “The raising of children outside an intact, two-parent family structure.”

In May, Daniels, citing the “wishes of my family,” bowed out of the Republican presidential contest. So we’ll never know if he planned to highlight illegitimacy in his campaign. The issue isn’t being raised by GOP candidates. And rest assured, it won’t pop up on Barack Obama’s teleprompter.

No one secures an elective office by telling voters that their reckless behavior has created a disaster. So it’s left to policy analysts and cultural commentators to pester their countrymen about owning up to the consequences of libidinal recreation.

Clearly, the lectures aren’t having any impact.

In 1965, as LBJ’s “Great Society” began to squander trillions of dollars, the illegitimacy rate was a scant 7.7 percent. In 2009, it was 41 percent. Rates may be higher for black and Latino mothers, but whites comprise the plurality (37.6 percent) of all children born to unwed women.

The human toll of fatherlessness -- depression, substance abuse, failure to develop marketable skills, prison sentences, etc. -- is not in doubt. Neither is the cost. According to the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, “The steady growth of childbearing by single women and the general collapse of marriage, especially among the poor, lie at the heart of the mushrooming welfare state. [In 2010], taxpayers [spent] over $300 billion providing means-tested welfare aid to single parents. The average single mother receives nearly three dollars in government benefits for each dollar she pays in taxes.”

From a child’s perspective, it’s difficult to asses which is worse: a nonexistent marriage, or a marriage that imploded. Brave scholars -- most notably, Judith Wallerstein and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead -- have defied a taboo, and publicly criticized divorce. They’ve debunked the Me Generation’s grotesque belief that children are inherently adaptable, and thus can easily weather the dissolution of a marriage.

“Children are conservative creatures,” Whitehead wrote in her seminal book The Divorce Culture. “They like things to stay the same. Troublingly, divorce makes change the only sure thing in children’s family lives.” Similar to kids born out of wedlock, the victims of divorce suffer adverse health effects, stumble in schoolwork, and are likelier to fall into poverty. Wallerstein’s research found that a marital breakup can leave sons and daughters with emotional scars that last for decades.

Less well-documented, but worthy of investigation, are the mothers who’ve found something better to do than raise their offspring. In the blunt prose of antifeminist firebrand George Gilder: “The very idea that women with small children should work outside the home is perverse.” Only people who have never cared for babies and toddlers, or are blinkered by sexual-equality ideology, believe that the little ones don’t benefit enormously from their mothers’ constant presence.

In 1965, 25.3 percent of women with children under age six were in the labor force. In 1980, the portion had risen to 48.6 percent; by 1990, 58.2 percent. In 2009, more than two-thirds of single mothers with young children worked, and the married-mothers cohort was just a few percentage points behind.

While most children of off-to-work moms are cared for by relatives, many are not. A 2005 Census Bureau analysis found that 34.9 percent of kids younger than five years old were institutionalized -- in either daycare or government/private “preschool.” In other words, over a third of America’s youngest children are watched over by medium- and low-wage workers who have no blood ties to their charges. Appalling.

Disdain for the federal government is at a historic high, and the pols who’ve spent U.S. coffers into insolvency deserve their abysmal approval ratings. En masse, they should be voted out of office.

But Washington’s selfish, slow-witted solons could restore sound money, slash taxes, devolve regulations to the states, privatize pensions and healthcare, jettison market-warping subsidies, and bring the troops home, and we would still be a country with a family-structure emergency.

Judge them by their actions, not their intentions. Rich and poor, white and “minority,” red and blue, a huge number of parents don’t give a damn about their children. It’s arguably the greatest crisis facing the nation. And there won’t be a word about it in the 2012 presidential race.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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