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February 07, 2013 3:55 PM Race, Income, Gender, and Family Structure

By Ed Kilgore

Oldsters and social scientists are probably aware of the furor that greeted Daniel Patrick Monynihan’s 1965 report to President Lyndon B. Johnson, entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” As the Urban Institute’s Isbel Sawhill reports in the January/February issue of the Washington Monthly (note: the title of her piece—“The New White Negro”—is an allusion to Norman Mailer’s 1957 essay on the origins of Hipster culture, and was chosen by a WaMo editor, not Dr. Sawhill), the very same “family breakdown” patterns that characterized African-Americans in 1965 now characterize white Americans as well, particularly those with lower educational achievements. Indeed, she concludes, a welter of factors including education, income and gender now affect marriages, divorces, and especially the decision of women to bear children out of wedlock, with race become more a complicating factor than the center of the story.

The big recent change, says Sawhill, is among “white working class” Americans:

Just as joblessness among young black men contributed to the breakdown of the black family that Moynihan observed in the ’60s, more recent changes in technology and global competition have hollowed out the job market for less educated whites. Unskilled white men have even less attachment to the labor force today than unskilled black men did fifty years ago, leading to a decline in their marriage rates in a similar way.

Moreover, the gradual emancipation of women, combined with the economic and educational challenges of men, have made single parenthood a much more attractive option for women, particularly when men resist a role in domestic life commensurate with their declining contributions to the household budget.

Family structure, of course, greatly reinforces disparities in opportunities for children, across racial lines:

Along with many others, I remain concerned about the effects on society of this wholesale retreat from stable two-parent families. The consequences for children, especially, are not good. Their educational achievements, and later chances of becoming involved in crime or a teen pregnancy are, on average, all adversely affected by growing up in a single-parent family. But I am also struck by the lessons that emerge from looking at how trends in family formation have differed by class as well as by race. If we were once two countries, one black and one white, we are now increasingly becoming two countries, one advantaged and one disadvantaged.

It’s the problem that no degree of conservative “backlash” can wish away.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Josef K on February 07, 2013 4:02 PM:

    It’s the problem that no degree of conservative “backlash” can wish away.

    Perhaps they can't "wish" it away, but they've proven very adept and capable of alternately ignoring it or distracting themselves from it. A depressing state of affairs.

  • Vicente Fox on February 07, 2013 4:04 PM:

    Isn't this what Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" is all about?

    http://www.aei.org/article/coming-apart-the-state-of-white-america-1960-2010/

  • POed Lib on February 07, 2013 4:19 PM:

    Say what you wish, immigration reform is going to be devastating for this group. We have a job deficit. Reforming immigration to allow 11 million to compete more openly for jobs will not help these people. It will further destroy them. The skilled trades are good examples. It used to be that a kid could leave high school, leave sheet metal or drywall, and have a lower-middle-class life. Not today. The sector is overrun by mostly Mexicans who take jobs at starvation wages. When they are legalized, the problem will get worse, not better. Same with college grads. The immigration reform bill as written now doubles or triples the number of job scab visas. We have way way way too many job scabs here stealing our jobs from our own kids. We do NOT need millions more to take these jobs.

  • Ron Mexico on February 07, 2013 4:21 PM:

    Mr. President--yes, it is. Part of the "furor" which Kilgore is not acknowledging is that the Moynihan-Glazer report quite wrongly argued that family structures were far weaker among African-Americans than among whites of varying ethnicities because the black family was supposedly destroyed by slavery. It ended as a kind of pathology only blacks suffered.

    It ended this way because the analysis exactly reversed cause and effect. Declining rates of two-parent households are not the cause of declining opportunities, and increased rates of juvenile delinquence are not "consequences" of the failure to stay married. They are consequences of a society which horribly serves the poor! It's the same as the notion that immigration is breaking our health-care system; the system is already broken! You don't fix this by fixing marriage--which in practice largely amounts to gentle tut-tutting and not so gentle slashing of antipoverty programs because they somehow encourage divorce.

  • POed Lib on February 07, 2013 4:21 PM:

    Say what you wish, immigration reform is going to be devastating for this group. We have a job deficit. Reforming immigration to allow 11 million to compete more openly for jobs will not help these people. It will further destroy them. The skilled trades are good examples. It used to be that a kid could leave high school, leave sheet metal or drywall, and have a lower-middle-class life. Not today. The sector is overrun by mostly Mexicans who take jobs at starvation wages. When they are legalized, the problem will get worse, not better. Same with college grads. The immigration reform bill as written now doubles or triples the number of job scab visas. We have way way way too many job scabs here stealing our jobs from our own kids. We do NOT need millions more to take these jobs.

  • c u n d gulag on February 07, 2013 4:50 PM:

    "If we were once two countries, one black and one white, we are now increasingly becoming two countries, one advantaged and one disadvantaged."

    Well, DUH!

    Since the 'Reagan De-evolution,' poor white are doing worse.

    "What's the Matter With Kansas?"
    And too many other Red States, and wannabe Red States?
    Stupid, ignorant, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and/or homophobic poor and middle class white voters, who constantly cast their votes against their own better interests.

    You've brought this misery on yourselves.
    And, in doing so, sadly, brought it on a lot of the rest of us, too.

    GROW UP!
    And, re-read your Bible.
    But this time, without your grifting Minister, Pastor, or Priest nearby.

    Read what Christ actually says about the poor - especially since you morons have made yourselves, and so many others, poorer, if not poor.
    The only people making money on "Profit Theology," are the people at the pulpits, making the profits - OFF OF YOU, YOU FECKIN' IDJITS!!!

  • smartalek on February 07, 2013 9:36 PM:

    "Becoming"???
    Ten thousand days late, and $50,000 short, Prof. Sawhill.
    That tense might have been accurate in 1980.
    Maybe even in 2000.
    Not now.
    Let us know when you've caught up.