Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Which kind of infrastructure is most important?

As the government contemplates trillions in new bailout spending, it is worth considering real infrastructure projects. And there is no infrastructure quite as important as that which undergirds the two-parent family.

Consider that, of 23 peer-reviewed U.S. studies since 2000, 20 found that family structure directly affects crime and/or delinquency.

"[R]esearch strongly suggests both that young adults and teens raised in single-parent homes are more likely to commit crimes, and that communities with high rates of family fragmentation (especially unwed childbearing) suffer higher crime rates as a result."

For example, a 23-year study found that nearly 90% of the change in violent crime rates can be attributed to the change in percentages of out-of-wedlock births (divorce rates, on the other hand, had no relationship with crime).

In The Atlantic Monthly, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead noted that the "relationship [between single-parent families and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again in the literature. The nation's mayors, as well as police officers, social workers, probation officers, and court officials, consistently point to family break up as the most important source of rising rates of crime."

In addition, the statistical link between the availability of welfare and out-of-wedlock births is conclusive. There have been dozens of studies that link the availability of welfare benefits to out-of-wedlock birth.

One study found that a 50 percent increase in the value of AFDC and foodstamp payments led to a 43 percent increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births.

Research for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that a 50 percent increase in the monthly value of combined AFDC and food stamp benefits led to a 117 percent increase in the crime rate among young black men.

In 1995 Dr. Patrick Fagan wrote a seminal summary of the situation: "Over the past thirty years, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers... High-crime neighborhoods are characterized by high concentrations of families abandoned by fathers... The rate of violent teenage crime corresponds with the number of families abandoned by fathers... Neighborhoods with a high degree of religious practice are not high-crime neighborhoods... Even in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90 percent of children from safe, stable homes do not become delinquents. By contrast only 10 percent of children from unsafe, unstable homes in these neighborhoods avoid crime... Criminals capable of sustaining marriage gradually move away from a life of crime after they get married."

But what caused the breakdown of the American family? There are certainly many factors, but the welfare system; glorification of the single-parent household; and ill-conceived legislation are among the chief culprits.

Welfare: In 1994 the Maryland NAACP published a report that concluded "the ready access to a lifetime of welfare and free social service programs is a major contributory factor to the crime problems we face today."

Author Robert Rector argued that "[f]or thirty years, the welfare system has paid for non­work and non­marriage and has achieved massive increases in both." Rector noted that when New Jersey began denying increases in cash welfare benefits to single mothers who have additional children while on welfare, out-of-wedlock births decreased 10% with no increase in abortions.

Glorification of single-parent households: During a 1994 commencement address at George Washington University First Lady Hillary Clinton stated, "If it ever did, [the American family] no longer does consist of two parents, a dog, a house with a white picket fence, and a station wagon in the driveway."

In 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle ignited a media kerfuffle by criticizing the character of Murphy Brown for raising a child out of wedlock without any discernible father figure. Though mocked for months in the press, Quayle's words now seem prescient: It doesn't help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.

Furthermore, "Feminist" organizations have long opposed measures to reduce single-parent families and revamp welfare accordingly.

But even more important than Hollywood, the media and feminist efforts to glorify single-parent households, legislation played a critical role in the breakdown of the family.

Legislation: Tax law hits married couples directly in their wallets. Studies have determined that the "marriage penalty" disincentivizes both marriage and labor, since "[the] best approach to appear to have a lower family income is to not have an employed spouse in the home."

Research shows that tax and transfer programs have a direct effect on marital stability. Financial stress contributes heavily to family problems, including marital difficulties that can lead to divorce. Therefore, tax policies that penalize married couples by increasing their tax liabilities, contribute directly to the breakdown of families.

Tax policies of the 1940s provided a family-oriented tax structure which preceded the sustained prosperity and social stability of the 1950s and early 1960s. During this time period, the rate of divorce actually declined.

Social researcher Allan Carlson proposed a variety of pro-­family tax policies, saying "a tax code recognizes that tax structure does influence human behavior. It would help children and strengthen families."

Other experts have offered a series of legislative proposals that strengthen the family, including: (a) identifying every child's father, by having states ensure that a document exists at birth to identify the name and social security number of both parents; (b) forcing fathers to take responsibility for their children through programs like Charles Ballard's National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood, in which fathers are strongly encouraged to legitimate their children, attend school, and find gainful employment; (c) rescind no-­fault divorce laws for parents with children; and (d) eradicate the destructive incentives of the welfare system.

Put simply, Congress can pave the way through intelligent legislation based on data, not opinion. If government is going to spend hundreds of billions on "infrastructure projects", no infrastructure is as important as that which underpins the two-parent American family.