The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:
As the online shouting matches over Cam Newton’s new baby show, we tend not to leave much room for nuance when it comes to the question of America’s surge in out-of-wedlock births.
Either you think it’s the main reason this country is falling to pieces, or you think it’s a strictly personal issue and sanctimonious Bible-thumpers need to mind their own business.
A new report on poverty and economic mobility suggests we strive for a middle path. The study is a joint attempt by the centrist Brookings Institution and the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute to fashion a national anti-poverty plan that bridges the polarized left-right divide. Fifteen scholars spent 14 months on it.
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They suggest decisions on marriage and childbearing, while personal, do carry broader social implications. Marriage rates have been falling since 1970. Births to unwed black women shot from 38 percent in 1970 to 72 percent in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control says. For white women, they jumped from 6 percent to 36 percent. Despite recent declines, more than 40 percent of U.S. babies are born outside marriage.
We do a terrible job of respecting differing views of all this. Conservative moralists point the finger of judgment, instantly turning off those targeted by their sermonizing. As annoying and even hypocritical as such lectures can be, the fact remains that, except perhaps for wealthy folks like Cam Newton, single parenting is financially forbidding and really hard.
The researchers say 4 out of every 5 children of married low-income parents climb into higher income classes as adults. Just half the children of unmarried low-income parents do.
You needn’t believe there’s anything magical about a marriage certificate to see why. Two incomes mean more resources. Two parents – married or living together – mean twice the support system.
If we really are pro-marriage, why don’t we get serious about it? Simply lecturing people won’t cut it. Young people are eschewing marriage because they’ve seen what a mess their parents and grandparents have made of it. But beyond such cultural reasons, they’re also bypassing it because our hollowed-out economy has, by one broader measure of unemployment, left some 50 percent of young black men out of work.
Why, the scholars ask, would we expect to see stable families forming in communities where men can’t find decent work?
We need to invest more in education, in workforce training and in work-supportive government efforts such as childcare subsidies and the Earned Income Tax Credit. We need to attack income inequality and wage stagnation. And, as the report suggests, we must send a clear social message that it’s better to put off having children until you’re in the kind of stable long-term relationship required to support them.
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