D. Dowd Muska


A Handbook for 2016’s Nonissue

August 06, 2015

Can we trade Donald Trump -- or Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio, or Mike Huckabee, or John Kasich -- for Mitch Daniels?

If we could, perhaps an issue that dare not be broached might surface in 2016’s presidential contest.

Several years ago, when he was the governor of Indiana, Daniels averred that the “raising of children outside an intact, two-parent family structure” was a practice the nation would come to regret. Now the president of Purdue University, he passed on a presidential run in 2012 and 2016. But Daniels’s statement, made to POLITICO, revealed that he was willing to challenge PC orthodoxy and illuminate a crisis that polite society disregards.

Read the Heritage Foundation’s “2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity: The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America,” and the devastation caused by family fragmentation becomes frighteningly clear. Packed with charts, the report includes essays from scholars and advocates who do the disheartening work of documenting societal decline.

The illegitimacy rate is just under 41 percent, and at 29 percent, the share for whites, Heritage’s Martin D. Brown found, is higher than the rate for blacks at the dawn of the Great Society. “After a long period of denial,” writes the Manhattan Institute’s Kay S. Hymowitz, “social scientists began to reach a consensus in the late 1990s that the children of single mothers were doing worse than the children of married mothers on just about every measure they studied: school achievement, poverty, emotional well-being, drug use, delinquency, and graduation rates.”

Some kids start life in a single-parent household. Others have one thrust upon them. There is now enough research on divorce, the Family Research Council’s Patrick F. Fagan explains, to draw definitive conclusions: “Compared to peers in intact families, younger children of divorced parents tend to perform more poorly in reading, spelling, and math, and they are more likely to repeat a grade and miss classes more frequently. They are also more likely to have lower expectations of going to or completing college; on average, they enjoy significantly lower odds of attending college and, if they do attend, of graduating.”

Divorce’s carnage also “appears in sexual relationships: Children of divorce are, on average, more approving of premarital sex, cohabitation, and divorce, and are more likely to say they would consider having a child outside of marriage, while they are less positive towards marriage compared to their peers in intact families. These attitudes can translate to behavior, as individuals from divorced families are more likely to initiate sexual intercourse earlier and to have a child out of wedlock.” Abuse of all kinds is more likely to strike kids from broken marriages, and the health effects are disturbing: “For instance, children of divorce are more prone to asthma. As young adults they are more likely to be hospitalized, and their life expectancy is shorter by four to five years.”

Family fragmentation is a contributor to all sorts of other problems. Marvin Olasky, author of The Tragedy of American Compassion, reports that volunteerism is slumping. (“Most of us chase our own bliss instead of volunteering to bless others.”) Don’t develop marketable skills, and the dole is attractive -- especially when benefits grow more valuable and eligibility standards are loosened. The “2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity” includes an analysis by Douglas J. Besharov and Douglas M. Call, both of the University of Maryland, who note that millions of healthy, prime-age Americans have opted out of the labor force: “[S]afety-net benefits can become large enough to make working seem not worthwhile to large numbers of people, at least not right away.”

When welfare is preferable to work, fiscal horror ensues. Annual government expenditures on food stamps, cash assistance, healthcare, housing, and the like now top $1 trillion -- more than is spent on “defense.” And there’s no end in sight, since the system is structured to swell. Heritage’s Paul L. Winfree writes that states, eager to spend revenue received from Washington, “use their discretionary authority to expand welfare while … underinvesting in anti-fraud activities.” The result is a “broadening pattern of intergovernmental dependence and self-defeating behaviors.”

The Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Yual Levin, author of the index’s introduction, believes that in order to “address America’s current social and economic dysfunction,” the nation needs “a clear picture of the challenges it confronts.” Heritage’s compilation provides such a snapshot. It’s grisly reading, but not something presidential candidates’ political handlers want their employers to peruse.

Mitch Daniels gets it. Maybe that’s why he isn’t running for president.

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

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