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Poverty and the Family

It’s noteworthy that a group of black leaders has chosen MLK Jr.’s birthday to announce a new initiative on poverty among African-American children. According to the Washington Post article on the effort, longtime activist Marian Wright Edelman says:

We need to revive a policy voice for children. The cradle-to-prison pipeline — breaking it up — is going to be the overall framework from which we move forward.

The Post notes that according to the 2010 Census, a black male born in the last decade has a 1-in-3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime. These stats and those on child poverty among blacks (40 percent) are horrifying. But nothing in the article or in the past efforts of Edelman and her associates suggest that these leaders have any intention of dealing with the single biggest cause: family breakdown.

Some 7-in-10 black children are born to single mothers, and most will be raised for much of their childhood in homes without fathers. No amount of government spending — which the group worries will decrease with Republicans back in control of the House — can make up for the lack of two parents.

Out-of-wedlock births are also high among Hispanics — about half of Hispanic children are born to unwed mothers, a dramatic increase in just the past 20 years, and Hispanic birthrates — for married and unmarried women — are also much higher than for other groups. But the lifetime outcomes are not nearly so dire, largely because Hispanic mothers marry at far greater rates than African Americans. Two-thirds of Hispanic youngsters grow up in two-parent households, compared with about 70 percent of non-Hispanic whites but only 35 percent of African-American children.

Child poverty is not about race or ethnicity or government spending. It’s about family composition.


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