Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Inner Cities: Personal Responsibility and Single Parents

Baltimore, April 2015
Catholic Ross Douthat, the New York Times house conservative, must walk a fine line between pushing his personal views and alienating his liberal audience. In the following statement, he is quietly defending traditional marriage. . . very quietly:
What a society believes and teaches about the link between sex, marriage and procreation has major implications for how, when and whether people couple, marry and raise children, which in turn has implications for every other societal arrangement.
Douthat means we’re better off with one father and one mother, bonded by marriage vows, raising their own children. That’s it. He’s not condemning anything.

In the same article, Douthat names abortion and hints at a problem:
In the . . .early ’70s, the pro-choice side of the abortion debate frequently predicted that legal abortion would reduce single parenthood and make marriages more stable, while the pro-life side made the allegedly-counterintuitive claim that it would have roughly the opposite effect; overall, it’s fair to say that post-Roe trends were considerably kinder to Roe’s critics than to the “every child a wanted child” conceit.
Douthat is making a very important point. The birth choice upper class parents believe is best for everyone isn’t working at the class level where choice means government subsidies and freedom from “marriage-first” morality.

African-American Columbia University professor John McWhorter, writing in the liberal “Daily Beast,” is much clearer than Douthat about how liberal good intentions have damaged urban America. McWhorter asserts that three key dynamics since the Civil Rights era began 50 years ago have generated the “inner-city misery” we see today:
First, the Black Power ideology that proliferated in the 1960s and ’70s discouraged black communities from maintaining the old-time mantra that adversity meant that blacks have to try twice as hard. The wise insight was that after centuries in the United States, the persistent double standard was demeaning, and while that made basic sense, it changed black America’s orientation towards individual initiative. That helps explain, for example, why only in the ’60s did it become common for poor blacks to burn their own neighborhoods in protest. Even amidst Jim Crow, black people did not do this.
Second, in the late ’60s, partly in response to the riots of the Long Hot Summers, welfare was transformed from a time-limited program intended for widows to an open-ended program that didn’t care whether recipients ever got jobs. This had the unintended consequence of discouraging marriage, and made it easier for women to raise kids without the father around. This, a story too little told, decisively impacted the black experience nationwide.
Finally, the War on Drugs created a black market alternative to legal work for poor black men underserved by bad schools. Frankly, “The Wire” explained this dynamic better than any academic analysis.
That’s 1) victimization replacing individual initiative, 2) family collapse, and 3) drugs. 1-2-3.

Michael Barone, in the conservative Washington Examiner, notes that liberals and conservatives now share a similar concern, even if their solutions differ:
Our kids, at least many of them, are not doing very well. The reason, writes [liberal] Harvard professor Robert Putnam in his just-published Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, is the "two-tier pattern of family structure" that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. . . Starting in the late 1960s, rates of divorce, unmarried births and single parenthood rose sharply among all segments of society. About a decade later, they fell and leveled off among the college-educated.
Among the bottom third of Americans in education and income, however, the negative trend accelerated. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was alarmed that 26% of black births were to unmarried children. The rate is about twice that for the least educated third of Americans of all races today. [emphasis added]
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Charles Murray's 2012 book Coming Apart describes the same phenomenon among white Americans. Curiously, Putnam [ignores] Murray's work. But Putnam agrees with Murray (perhaps grudgingly) that this is bad for the kids involved.
Like most high-education Americans, [Putnam] doesn't want to denounce people for breaking old moral rules even when that hurts their kids. The libertarian Murray doubts that government can do much. But he thinks that high-education elites, with their strong family structures, can. They need to "preach what they practice." Bloomberg's Megan McArdle, agreeing, nominates Hollywood for a lead role. Midcentury America's universal media -- radio, movies, television -- celebrated the old rules.
Hollywood preaching sound morality? So last century; so gone by the ‘60s.

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