A still underappreciated fact in Washington is that too many children are being raised without two parents. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Key Indicators of Child Well-Being 2004,” extrapolating from the Census Bureau’s 2004 American Community survey, shows 68% of the District’s children are being raised in families headed by a single parent. The national average is 31%. Many of the children raised in such families will do well and lead productive lives. Many, unfortunately, will not fare well.
Dr. Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist, examined crime statistics from 39 countries collected by Interpol for his November 2004 paper, “Single Parenthood As a Predictor of Cross-National Variation in Violent Crime.” Barber asserted, “One factor operating at the level of families that has received surprisingly little attention in cross-national comparisons is single-parenthood (or illegitimacy to use an older, more precise term that is often avoided because of its evaluative connotations.) This is surprising in view of evidence that variation in violent- crime rates over time is correlated with the proportion of children raised outside wedlock.” Barber cites the work of a researcher who discovered that “children of single mothers in the United States are about 7 times as likely to be incarcerated for crimes compared to children raised by married couples.” Barber notes that academics are indeed divided over why there is such a high correlation between crime and the children of single-parents but it is clear “being raised by a single parent, who has few if any alternative supportive caretakers, is a major for criminal offending.”
Crime is not the only problem associated with single-parenthood. The National Fatherhood Initiative has assembled a variety of statistics attesting to the importance of having fathers involved in the lives of their children, including a March 2002 Census report on “Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics,” which found 7.8% of children in married-couple families lived in poverty compared to 38.4% in households headed by females.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), at an Oct. 6, 2005, hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, chose to put a positive spin on the benefits of being married and raising children. “Children raised in married families are three times less likely to repeat a grade in school; five times less likely to have behavioral problems; half as likely to be depressed; three times less likely to use illicit drugs; half as likely to become sexually active as teenagers; and 14 times less likely to suffer abuse from their parents,” explained Brownback.
Increasingly, the talk in Washington will revolve around the presidential election. A great deal will be heard about homeland security, Iraq, energy, education and the budget. An issue as important as these is the state of urban families. Stronger urban families are the essential first step to achieving better educational and employment opportunities, reduced poverty and safer streets.
Many of today’s young men and women raised without two parents may be jaundiced about marriage. In many cases, the children beat the odds due to the help of a concerned, conscientious mother. The question is how many more might succeed if they could be raised in more stable families. Two parent families are more able to provide support economically, emotionally, and time-wise to their children.
The president cannot lead couples to the altar; however, he does have a bully pulpit. President Bill Clinton recognized the importance of family when he said during his 1995 State of the Union address, “Our most serious social problem [is] the epidemic of teen pregnancies and births where there is no marriage.” President Bush and his administration have worked assiduously to promote marriage and family.
The next person to sit in the Oval Office should continue promoting marriage as a social good. The next president can encourage religious congregations, civic groups and the entertainment industry to play a greater role in reconnecting young urban Americans with marriage and parenthood. Now is the time that presidential candidates should start thinking what they would do to encourage families in which a mother and father are constant and guiding presences in the lives of their children.