The Single-Parent Household Epidemic

The social science experts tell us there are three simple rules to live by to reach the middle class: 1) Graduate at a minimum from high school. 2) Get a full-time job. 3) Wait until you are at least 21 to get married and have kids.

This last rule deserves your attention because parents are increasingly breaking it, tragically setting their children up to fail.

Out of wedlock birth rates are spiraling out of control. To show you just how much the country has changed during my lifetime, in 1965 the birth rate for unmarried women was under 8%. By 2015, the rate had risen to over 40%.

The children of out of wedlock births are frequently raised in poor, single-parent households, which puts them at a major disadvantage in life. We are talking about millions of kids being negatively impacted here. 31% of children today are not living in two-parent households, most of whom are being raised by single mothers. The poverty rate for single-mother families in 2016 was over 35%, five times the rate of married-couple families.

What happens to those born out of wedlock and raised by single mothers? Simply put, a vicious cycle of generational poverty where the American Dream gets further and further out of reach.

The research shows that those born out of wedlock are at a greatly increased risk of health, developmental, emotional and behavioral issues at all stages of life.

These issues contribute to poorer school performance, increased odds of drug and alcohol usage and a greater propensity to engage in violent or criminal behavior.

The end result is that it is very hard for such children to follow the three simple rules to enter the middle class – they get stuck in the same trap as their parents.

Consider the plight of kids born out of wedlock:

  • The odds of dropping out of high school rather than graduating increase.

  • It may be harder to attain a job — even if graduating from high school — if such individuals made poor grades, had substance abuse issues and/or a criminal record.

  • As adults, such individuals may be deemed less desirable or uncommitted partners, due to lack of employment, or any of the other issues mentioned; therefore, it becomes more likely that they too will have children without getting married.

In the end then, the next generation will have to deal with the same problems over again.

The proof is in the pudding: Children living in single-parent homes are 50 percent more likely to experience poverty as adults relative to children from intact married homes.

The importance of the nuclear family just cannot be emphasized enough.

One thing I have yet to mention is that if you are a struggling single mother or otherwise finding it difficult to make ends meet, you are likely to turn to welfare programs for support.

There is a cost to these benefits. Dependency on the state hurts personal growth by making one dependent, and often saps individuals of their morale and dignity.

FDR put it best in his 1935 State of the Union Address during the Great Depression – an address it is hard to imagine any prominent Democrat delivering today:

Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.

This is why the “workfare” reform passed in the ‘90s – and gutted during the Obama years – which tied government assistance to employment, was so positive.

It might shock you to know that our government actually perpetuates the vicious cycle I have described by incentivizing the formation of single-parent households through the way it structures benefit programs.

Did you know that there are marriage penalties built into means-tested welfare programs, from food stamps and public housing, to day care and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families?

As one study explains it:

The current welfare system may be conceptualized best as a system which offers each single mother … a “paycheck.”… She will continue to receive her “paycheck” as long as she fulfills two conditions: (1) she must not work; and (2) she must not marry an employed male…. [Welfare] has converted the low-income working husband from a necessary breadwinner into a net financial handicap. It has transformed marriage from a legal institution designed to protect and nurture children into an institution that financially penalizes nearly all low-income parents who enter into it. [i]

It is simply immoral that our government would condemn future generations to hardship and poverty through these programs.

It is an American Nightmare to think that every day children are being born with the odds stacked against them.

If we want to fix this issue as a society, we need to rethink our priorities.

We need to change our culture to one that emphasizes the nuclear family, and responsible parenting.

We need to get government out of the business of discouraging nuclear family formation.

The American Dream must be in reach for every child.

________

[i] See The Heritage Foundation’s study “Why Expanding Welfare Will Not Help the Poor.”

Celebrating America’s Spirit of Generosity

Generosity has always been an essential part of what it means to be an American.

From banking billionaires to barkeeps, we have viewed material success as a means to do good for our families and communities, rather than an end.

Thanks to democratic capitalism — where businesses go belly-up if they don’t create goods and services that people want at a price they can afford, and jobs that fulfill and enrich — the process of creating that wealth does tremendous good by itself.

Too often we ignore the wonder of this free enterprise system.

It is this system that enabled Americans to give an estimated $390bn to U.S. charities in 2016. To put that number in perspective, last year our country gave more money to philanthropic causes than the entire gross domestic product of Austria. It goes without saying that we are the most charitable people in the world.

A large portion of this giving was and is funded directly by wealthy individuals and indirectly by institutions they have founded and supported. According to the Almanac of American Philanthropy, the so-called “one percent” make more than one-third of all donations. The majority of the largest donors in the world are based in the Americas. Of these donors, almost three-quarters are, largely self-made, Americans; they each donate around $30 million over their lives.

Our entrepreneurial spirit goes hand-in-hand with our desire to help others. Rich and poor alike believe this, as American households give several thousand dollars to charity each year on average.

We are following in the footsteps of a long line of Americans.

When he wasn’t leading our nation as a Founding Father and statesman, inventing items like lightning rods and bifocals, or publishing newspapers, Benjamin Franklin used his success to build Philadelphia’s civil society through developing a number of critical institutions. These include among others: The nation’s first public library; Pennsylvania’s first volunteer fire brigade; the Academy of Philadelphia, now known as the University of Pennsylvania; and the nation’s first hospital, which focused on serving the poor and sick.

The great 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie was equally ambitious. Among other things, he: Created 2,811 lending libraries worldwide; founded one of the world’s leading research universities in the Carnegie Technical Schools, now known as Carnegie Mellon University; underwrote one of the nation’s first and still largest grantmaking foundations in the Carnegie Corporation; and established numerous other charitable organizations. Peers like John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan picked up his mantle.

Today, several American billionaires like Bill Gates have pledged to give away half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. They are joined by many business successes, from Silicon Valley tech titans to energy tycoons, who help fund projects in areas like education, health and culture.

Recently we were reminded of the generosity of America’s business community, which mobilized to donate millions of dollars to the recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In spite of this record, in conversations with folks about causes near and dear to my heart like The Cloisters on the Platte and Opportunity Education, I have heard our philanthropic work described as “unusual.”

Why is there this perception that it is rare for those who have done well to support charitable causes?

Could it be because “the rich” are often depicted in popular culture as greedy, old, and sometimes overweight fat cats chomping on cigars? Is the corrupt and miserly “Old Man Potter” from It’s a Wonderful Life how Americans see our captains of industry?

If so, it is a real shame. We have always been a country that celebrates strivers and doers. We have never sought to pull people down for success, but to lift others up and open opportunities so that they too can achieve it. Envy is not in our DNA. Ambition is.

Speaking for myself, one way of expressing my appreciation for the opportunities this nation has provided has been by using the wealth our enterprises have created to advance worthy causes.

The purpose is not to put names on buildings, but to support initiatives in areas like civil society and education that will allow us to continue to thrive as a vibrant and dynamic country for decades to come.

While there are certainly greedy wealthy people just as there are greedy non-wealthy people, in my life, I have found that almost all Americans feel the same way I do about being generous with their time and money.

We are generous because we are thankful, and because we wish to see American remain the freest, most prosperous land on Earth for our children and grandchildren.

This spirit of generosity should unite us all. It is one of the many things that makes us an exceptional nation.